How to Set Yourself Up to Win Against Big Box Firms with Charles BrowneApr 24, 2020
Charles Browne, Master Black Belt Six Sigma Process Improvement Expert found himself as a “consultant for hire” for big box consulting firms.
What frustrated him with this experience was how he wound up missing out on opportunities because of how he was positioned. He would have meaningful conversations with his clients about the bigger changes that needed to happen, such as shifts in leadership, but he wasn’t positioned for any real influence on those bigger changes.
It’s for this reason he decided that he wanted to invest time and money in creating his own brand so that he could make the income and impact that he knew was possible.
Through our work together on his brand messaging and positioning, he learned how to break free of what he saw initially as the safer subcontractor path and own the true value that he could bring the table for the clients he wanted to serve.
But it took him coming to the point as he described, “I just decided I couldn’t do it cheap anymore. I couldn’t afford to do it the cheap way anymore, because none of those processes have the perspective that you have on the market.”
- If you resonate with Charlie’s goals and want a business that reflects the true value you know you can offer, watch this video.
- And then learn more about my brand messaging and positioning services at: https://www.betsyjordyn.com/messaging-positioning
Betsy Jordyn: Hey, it’s Betsy Jordyn. I am super excited to introduce you all to Charles Browne, the latest graduate from the Consultant’s Institute, who has got an amazing new business that he is launching, so welcome.
Charles Browne: Hi. Thank you.
Betsy Jordyn: So, what I would love to do first, is like just take us back in time, and tell us a little bit about your journey. So, I know that you didn’t just wake up one day and say hey I want to start a consulting business, you’ve been thinking about it for a while. So, take us back to your journey.
Charles Browne: Yeah, absolutely. That’s exactly the best way to describe it too. So, I started my profession career in the Navy, as a member of the Naval Nuclear Power Program. And when I left the Navy, I worked at a couple of commercial sites, and then for a couple OEMs, Westinghouse and GE.
And through both of those processes, I served as an Operator, and then also as a Project Manager, and then a Master Black Belt Lean Sig Sigma process improvement black belt. But throughout my whole career, it’s really – there’s been this foundational understanding, and it’s foundational love of performance improvement, and human performance in particular.
So, during one period of unemployment, between a couple of those opportunities, I was picked up by a consulting firm to do some Lean Sig Sigma consulting. And it was the best, the most rewarding, the most energizing and exciting work I had ever done. The only downside to it at that time was, I wasn’t in charge of my own clients. I couldn’t pick my clients.
So, on a few of those occasions, we had some corporate clients who just weren’t really looking for change. They were just looking for some kind of an answer or to check off a box. So, those very few engagements kind of turned me off to that big box consulting firm, which is why I chose not to stay.
So, yeah, just like you say, I kind of dabbled around a little bit, once I did find permanent employment again, I did dabble around a little bit in some coaching and some consulting for friends and other small business owners in my neighborhood, and in my area, trying to help them improve. And I got a lot of great results for them, and I did try on my own several times to put together a coaching practice, and a consulting practice to help those types of people, but it never really took off.
I was never really clear on exactly who I could help, and what my real benefit in the market was. Because I knew a lot of stuff and when you meet at a networking event, or you meet a small business owner who says they’re having trouble with things, what you want to do is you want to fix it and you want to help them, and you’ve got this entire tool bag full of stuff that you think you can apply. But obviously, I learned the hard way, if that’s what you put on your shingle, it’s really hard to make an argument for a business on how and why they need your help.
So, obviously, I heard you on a podcast. I listened to you. I reached out and I think it was probably within two or three days we were on the phone together, and I joined your program. And it’s just a couple months later, and I couldn’t be more happy.
Betsy Jordyn: So, this is so interesting. So, we’ve got like lots of different things to unpack in your story. So, what I heard you say that got you into the desire to have your own independent consulting business because I think there is a big difference between I just want to be a subcontractor with another firm, but I want my own gig, is it sounds like one, you had a lot of experience just running businesses, and being an operator.
And then the second thing is, is that you started sort of operating as an internal consultant through your process improvement and the Sig Sigma stuff, and testing the waters with the sub – being a subcontractor if you will to a bigger firm, you really just couldn’t have the influence. And that’s when you said I want my own shingle. I want to do my own thing. So, did I hear that part right?
Charles Browne: Yeah, you’re absolutely correct. And you know there was a funny – there’s another funny little thing that happened when I was that kind of consultant for hire, that contractor was many of those clients engaged that consultant firm for a particular business outcome, but what I found my real benefit was working with the executive team, and teaching them how to coach, and teaching them how to get the most out of their clients. And that was something that that big box consultancy didn’t offer.
So, it ended up being, and I swear to you, it ended up being nights and weekends and dinners with that executive staff outside of working hours talking to them about those – about those changes, and how their leadership style was affecting their outcomes.
Betsy Jordyn: You know this is huge. So, this is one of those things that I think is such an important point is there is a huge difference between being a consultant for hire, and an executive advisor, and they’re not the same. And that even though you could have a big box firm going in, they’re not really positioning themselves as an advisor themselves on the whole, so they’re not going to position you as the advisor. And it sounds like you saw that role to say, I want that role, because that is the only way that I’m going to create change. Is that accurate?
Charles Browne: Yeah, absolutely. And I was starting to ruffle a few feathers because that particular firm had a workbook. They had a workbook. Day one, you do this, you talk to this person. Day two, you do this; day three, you do this. And that’s not how I work. I’m all about the root cause analysis. I’m all about the problem statement. And I’m all about this really integrated approach to getting the entire workflow – the entire workforce together, working toward the common goal.
I mean you cannot be a big box consultancy and write a workbook that’s going to fit for every single customer. It just doesn’t work. So, there were a lot of blanks in my workbook. When I would finish my engagement, the customers were utterly satisfied, every single one of them, really energized, really excited about the future. I felt like they got a lot out of it. They learned a lot of things, but there were a lot of blanks in my workbook, because there were sections that I knew, as you say, as an experienced operator, and as an experienced business owner, that’s not applicable. That’s not going to help us in this situation, let’s just skip over that. We don’t have to do that. So, I was already starting to ruffle some feathers before I went on my own.
Betsy Jordyn: So, it sounds like you’re the kind of consultant, and I think you and I are both alike around this is that sometimes, giving a client what they want, even though that it might make them satisfied isn’t giving them what they need, which is going to make them effective over the long run. And so, as you looked at the organization, you’re like I don’t want to settle for just giving a solution, and just getting my paycheck. I want to go in there and solve the problems. And a cookie-cutter solution isn’t going to do that for you, or for the client.
Charles Browne: Yeah, absolutely. I mean the last step in any process improvement is control, to then go back and look at the process again, ensure that you actually got the result that you desired. So many of these organizations have really, really brilliant people in key positions, but they put so much pressure on themselves to come up with a solution, that they don’t go through all the steps that I would go through as an external consultant.
So, what they get are a lot of unintended consequences, they get a lot of root causes that aren’t being solved. They look at a problem, they say I remember you know 21 years ago, when I was in that position, we had that problem, and I bet it’s because of this. Okay, let’s hire a new person, we’ll create this third role in between these two roles, and that will solve the problem. And that’s not always the solution.
They get either – it’s kind of a combination. They’re either too far removed from the process these days, it’s changed quite a bit. Or they get so focused in on one thing that they don’t look at the whole organization as a whole.
Betsy Jordyn: So, this is brilliant, because there’s a lot of people that are out there, who are probably listening in and saying hey, Betsy, I just really want to subcontract, because it feels like it’s a lot safer. I can – I don’t have to risk the marketing. I can just find these firms and they’ll send me, and you saw firsthand, that that’s not necessarily a great model, if you’re somebody who really wants to solve organizational challenges, and who really wants to be that advisor and really wants to really make that kind of impact.
It sounds like you’d want more than just making the money from consulting, you want to make that difference, and that’s going to satisfy you at the end of the day.
Charles Browne: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I don’t want to go too far off the path here, but I learned a lot about myself during that time. So, I know from you know a personal need, and a professional need, and an emotional need’s perspective that I am never going to be happy opening up that cookbook and just flipping pages.
I am off the scale high as a contributor. I have to contribute. So, I’m a very results-focused person. I don’t care if it takes a day. I don’t care if it takes six weeks. I’m really focused on what do we have to do to get that result? So, yeah, I mean I can see how in some organizations, you know that we keep calling them the big box, the big box consultancies might make sense, but for my target audience, right, which are those mid-sized companies that have had some initial success, maybe they had a really great launch product, and they’re starting to expand that product line, or that service line. They’re hiring more people. They’ve just moved into a bigger space.
Now, all of a sudden their operations are getting very sophisticated. A big box is not really going to be able to help them, because a big box assumes a certain level of operation. Well, when you’re in that kind of gray area between hey we’re successful, we’re not idiots, we know what we’re doing. We have a really great product. We have a really great mission. But we’re not really being able to scale that properly, because the stuff that used to work before where there was, you know me, and Jeff and Paula were doing this. Now, all of a sudden it’s me and Jeff and Paula and Ryan and Phil and you know it’s growing so much that you get kind of a dilution of that knowledge. So, you really need to start to systemize what you do, and how you do it, even the innovation.
Those type of companies, you really need somebody who is going to dig in, who is going to spend the time to get to know the organization and really pull the thread on what’s make them unique.
Betsy Jordyn: So, I want to get to talking a little bit more about your ideal clients, because you clearly got there. But I’m starting to see your path and your journey forward. Is it really started with, hey I’m running a business – or I’m running an operation, and I can see ways to improve it, so then you move into the process improvement role, and you’re sort of as this internal consultant, and you’re offering the Sig Sigma and other types of process, support. Then you have experience working under a big box consulting firm as a subcontractor.
And so, then you got clear to say, you know what I don’t want to work for somebody else. I don’t want to work for somebody else even as a subcontractor. I want to do my own thing. So, that seems like big decision number one is this is the right fit for me, and I want to do it for myself. Did I get that right?
Charles Browne: Yeah, absolutely. And it was a lot of your material that helped me understand that, because you know if you Google how to be a consultant, you’re going to get millions of hits.
Betsy Jordyn: Yeah.
Charles Browne: It’s pretty much junk. Because it’s really focused so externally on how to get clients, or how they money, or what their earning potential is. It doesn’t really spend the time like you do in your program to figure out what made me unique and what’s going to keep me fired up.
So, running my business on my own, whether it’s me or a small team of two or three of us, I’ve got to be excited about it. I’ve got to love that client. I’ve got to love what they do. But the other training programs out there did nothing – they didn’t talk about any of that stuff, and that’s where I kept getting hung up time and time again. I feel like I got to second base and then I just kind of stalled there. So, that’s why working with you one-on-one, we spent so much time just talking about my back story, and not just my professional back story, my personal life, and what things motivated me, and what things pushed me forward.
And then once I understood me laying out who that client was, or what the value proposition to them was, it was easy, right? I mean we got to a point where it was POP like the dam broke and everything just flowed, including all my web copy, right?
Betsy Jordyn: So, what would you say if somebody is in the same boat, to say I really – like I think one of your presenting questions was – is like I’m good at a lot of different things. And I don’t know how to narrow it down, or I don’t know how to focus it, because that was the worry is, I have to give up parts of myself. And I think you came to recognize like I don’t have to give up any part of myself.
Like when did – what made that shift? And what would you recommend to somebody else who is struggling with that same question?
Charles Browne: Yeah, so for a long time again, you know I kind of went on the cheap end, right? I started with an article, then a five-dollar eBook, and then $199 you know strategy workbook.
Betsy Jordyn: Yeah.
Charles Browne: You know, and I kept trying to scale it up little by little by little. And I just got to a point with you, I mean you know my personal motivation for starting my business. I just decided I couldn’t do it cheap anymore. I couldn’t afford to do it the cheap way anymore, because none of those processes have the perspective that you have on the market.
Like, yeah, that’s great that you know this, this, and this, but you’ll never sell that. That’s not really a benefit to any business, at least not to businesses that you’ve identified you want to work with. So, those are great, but let’s pack those away. That’s not your lead-in, that’s stuff that you’re not going to use very often and you helped me really say oh my gosh, you are so unique in this way.
Betsy Jordyn: Yeah.
Charles Browne: Your combination of experience is so unique in this way, that was absolutely the deal-breaker for me, from considering internal consulting again, and just kind of staying in the corporate world as an operations manager. You helped me see that oh my gosh, like these are the people you can help. This is your absolute killer, cornerstone skillset. And then you can build from there.
Betsy Jordyn: So, if I were to go back and say all right, here is bit pillars that I heard in your big picture journey is one, you really got interested in the role when you were an internal person. You tried out big box stuff, and you decided nope, I want to do my own thing.
Once you decided your own thing, kind DIYing it on your own wasn’t really working for you, because you still got tripped up on the messaging and who that ideal client was. And then you got caught up – it sounds like a little bit caught in your head around like okay, which skill do I lead with, or what have you.
And then we got together, like I remember some of those early conversations, some of the questions you had was like okay, I am really good from the analytical side, and I’m really good from more of like the communication side, the writing, you know you have all of this unique mix, and you thought you had to choose. At a certain point, it was like well the fact that you know all of this in between stuff is actually where your differentiated expertise lies, and that’s actually what somebody who is in that growing phase really needs, because they’re not hiring a million consultants, they can’t really afford the big box, or even as you mentioned, it’s not even relevant.
So, somebody who can get in there and get the operators to speak with marketing, and the marketing to speak with sales, and all these people to communicate is actually a competitive advantage. Like that’s when I think your light bulb started – I don’t know if that’s accurate?
Charles Browne: Yeah, absolutely. So, again, kind of all of the bargain consulting startups, they really push you to be a surgical instrument. This one thing, but you helped me see that I’m a human Swiss army knife, and that’s a great thing.
Betsy Jordyn: Yes.
Charles Browne: And that can be an incredible thing. And now that I’ve embraced that, yeah, that was pretty significant breakthrough, just have the confidence, right. So, I have the confidence now, I can go into any organization, maybe even – you know in the past there were a few that might be a little intimidating? Not even a hesitation anymore.
Betsy Jordyn: So, I love that. And I don’t think we have the Swiss army knife in any of your marketing copy. So, let’s just like – let’s hold on that one. Because I think we’re definitely going to need to use that in the future.
But I just want to ask you one other question, and this has been so helpful. And I know that for other people who are in a similar boat, that you’re one of the few people that I know who really caught a vision and set the plans and actually implemented them before you actually had to move.
A lot of people that I work with, they think about it, and think about it, and think about it for years, and years, and years, they don’t put their business foundation in place, and then something happens where they lose their jobs, or something gets redefined, and then they’re in this you know really difficult scenario in the back end.
What was it that you had that made you say, you know what, I want to take charge of this? I don’t want to wait until something happens in the market. I don’t want to wait until something happens to my job. I want to not just control my career in the future, but I want to take control of my career now.
Charles Browne: Yeah. So, this hit me pretty hard during a job search. So, I was laid off from one of those OEMs, they were great in that they tried to help me out a lot with the job search, and they connected me with a career coach and a resume writing service. And one of the exercises they had me do was sit down and write just a quick paragraph on your biggest win, as far back as you can remember, professional win, right? So, they were wholly focused on that.
So, I wrote three, four, five, six good stories about incredible things that I did. And then I looked at them, and I looked for the common theme. And the common theme was every one of those little projects that we’ll call them, right, these little exercises of projects within my role, they were all a collateral project. They were all something that was outside of my primary role, right?
So, my primary roles were I had been a Senior Project Manager, I had been a Lean Sig Sigma master, black belt. I had been an Operations Manager. So, those are all titles that I held, and you can imagine what those job descriptions looked like. But all these like incredible gains and incredible breakthroughs that I’ve had for those employers or for any of my clients weren’t under the umbrella of that job role. They were something else. There was a problem within the organization, there was some kind of challenge within the group, or within the process, that I was just sick of dealing with. And I went after them, and I fixed them. And they became my greatest success stories.
So, when I’m doing that process to kind of fill out a new resume, and start applying for new jobs in other organizations, I was like there is no job description that can quantify that, or that can capture all of those successes, except a consultant. Because now I can take those individual stories, and go to separate businesses, and separate organizations, and have those incredible wins through them, and not have to do any of the other crap, right?
Betsy Jordyn: Yes.
Charles Browne: All the stuff that I didn’t want to do in my normal job.
Betsy Jordyn: Yes.
Charles Browne: So, that was part of it. And then the other part is you know my children live with their mother, and right now I’m on the other side of the country, and I visit them as often as possible, and technology is wonderful, Face Time is great, but I need the freedom. I need the freedom to be wherever I want to be, to earn as much as I need to earn to be able to take them on vacations now that we’re doing two vacations every year, and two Christmases and all that stuff. So, you know that was a pretty strong motivator as well, being able to control how many contracts I have in a year, how much work I have, if I wanted to take a month off for them, then I could do that. Well, that type of freedom and then being able to just fully 99 percent of the time doing the work that I really love.
Betsy Jordyn: So, I hear so many things in the best practices, but it seems like you approached your business development in the same way that you did all of those other big wins that you had for your client. And you just got focused on solving the problem.
So, you got outside of your own head, outside of your own fears, and you just said, you know what, I’m going to tackle this from a problem standpoint, and I’m going to make sure that I’m focusing on tomorrow, and what I want to create for tomorrow and make those decisions today. Which I would say is the biggest thing that most people fail at.
So, you’re about to launch your amazing website, and your website alone isn’t going to bring you business. Like we worked really hard on this platform, if you will, but this platform is only going to work is if you work it, and you continue to solve the problem. And that’s what I think is so important about a marketing system, you know the value of a good process. You put it into play, and you brought the analytics, if it doesn’t work, then you keep tweaking it. You don’t just throw out the whole thing. So, it sounds like you’re approaching it from that standpoint, which I think is going to be huge for your future success.
Charles Browne: Yeah, absolutely. I’m my own best client.
Betsy Jordyn: Yes.
Charles Browne: And I use the same tools for myself that I would use for any other client to exactly do that, to layout, I did a SWAT analysis of myself. You know what I mean, I laid out…
Betsy Jordyn: Yes.
Charles Browne: So, I’m very, very clear about what I don’t want to do, what type of work I don’t want to do, what type of clients I don’t want to work with. I’m not going to waste time, so all of the website copy, all of my marketing material is going to scream to my ideal client, which you know everybody says you’re supposed to do. It’s easier to say, than to actually do it though, if you don’t do the work upfront and ahead of time.
Because what you do instead is you try to write something that’s really clever and really neat, but it doesn’t resonate with the right people, absolutely not. And then I also recognized – so, there’s the generic error model, where you kind of map familiarity with a topic across from the attention. And I know that I’m very unfamiliar with this, launching a consultancy, but I’m hyper-focused on how do I fix this problem?
I know the number one tool when you’re in that mental space is collaboration. So, I looked for somebody to collaborate with, and that was you.
Betsy Jordyn: This is awesome. Okay, one final wrap up question. This has been so helpful, and I see so many things that are even replicable around your journey that other people can follow. But is like one thing that if you were going to back to early Charlie and tell him you know about what you’ve learned now, like what you tell him to do differently, or approach differently?
Charles Browne: You know it sounds like a cliché; it really does. And I think you and I have personally laughed about this, but I avoided my true self so much, trying to become something I wasn’t, you know the Swiss army knife versus the surgeon, I tried to avoid that for so long, and I tried to force fit my personality, my experience, my passion into this box of what I thought a consultant was instead of just building a practice around who I really am already. That’s absolutely the most freeing and the most exciting feeling that I’ve had professionally in a really, really long time.
Betsy Jordyn: And I could tell you there was a huge transformation. I mean, I’m so excited. Like from when we started to when your website started flowing, it’s like you just became unstoppable. It’s been just – it’s been so much fun to watch this transformation.
Charles Browne: Yeah, likewise for everything.
Betsy Jordyn: Thank you so much for – thank you so much for taking your time and sharing this information. And I just know you’re going to be impacting so many other people who in the same boat as you are. So, thank you so much.
Charles Browne: It was my pleasure, Betsy, thank you.
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