Michael Zipursky | Embracing Imperfection in Your Business

Perfection is your biggest enemy, says our guest this week, Michael Zipursky of ConsultingSuccess.com. Michael says it’s an issue holding back many of the consultants and professional service providers he’s worked with over the years. Michael sees tremendous value in what he calls “Imperfect Action.” Don’t spend all your time fine-tuning your offer, value proposition, product, or service. Just put it out there… then learn how to make it better based on what the marketplace tells you.

That’s how to make consistent progress and grow your business. Patience, focus, and a willingness to make mistakes is key too.

And that’s just the start. Tune in now to hear Michael explain…

  • What matters more than tactics, strategy, and technology
  • The dangers of Shiny Object Syndrome
  • Ways to achieve meaningful success that counts
  • The myth of the Magic Bullet for your business
  • How to create proposals that are easy for your clients to say yes to

Mentioned in the show

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In this episode, we’re talking with Michael Zipursky. Michael is an entrepreneur, he’s a coach to Elite Consultants and he’s the CEO of ConsultingSuccess.com. He is the leading authority on marketing for consultants and for small consulting firm. He’s particularly an expert at pricing strategies. Some of the articles that he’s written in the past on his site on pricing strategy are worth going and hunting down and finding. His previous clients include billion-dollar global organizations and top consulting firms. In addition to working with those big companies, he’s coached and trained hundreds of consultants as part of his accelerator coaching program. Over 6,000 consultants have taken his courses and his workshops. Michael, I’m excited to have you on the podcast.

Steve, a real honor and excited to catch up with you as well.

We’ve got a lot to cover, but before we get into the meat of things, I’d love for you to give everybody a little bit of background and context, so they understand how you’ve got to this point in your career.

I started off way back in college university days. Started a consulting business with my cousin Sam. That was in a very different space than we are today, but it was initially around web developments with the early days of what was happening in that area. We grew that business, got a lot of good experience, and from there started another consulting business, which I ended up going over to Japan and opening up a branch office. I had the fortunate experience of working with some very large Japanese companies like Panasonic, Dow Jones Japan, Financial Times Japan, and many others in the B2B space. That was a great learning experience. I parleyed that into when I came back from Japan to North America started another consulting business, this time in the lead generation space focusing on working with professional services firms and did that for many years.

I thought one day, “I’m learning so much over the years of building these different consulting businesses, what if I start writing articles about it and the shared stories from the trenches and what I was going through?” There are a lot of great, exciting experiences but there were a lot of challenges, a lot of learning experiences. That’s how ConsultingSuccess.com was born, was out of wanting to share and to help others learn from both the successes as well as the mistakes that I’ve made over the years. Now, we’re in a place where we work with a lot of consultants all around the world helping them to grow their businesses.

 The Elite Consulting Mind: 16 Proven Mindsets to Attract More Clients, Increase Your Income, and Achieve Meaningful Success

The Elite Consulting Mind: 16 Proven Mindsets to Attract More Clients, Increase Your Income, and Achieve Meaningful Success

You have been publishing fantastic content and some great insights there. We met years ago in a mastermind group, but I’ve been going to your site to pick up little nuggets and finetune what we do. It’s definitely a great resource. You’ve got a book out, The Elite Consulting Mind. It’s a great book and you’ve got sixteen proven mindsets to attract more clients, increase your income and achieve meaningful success. I know that in the course of building the couple of firms that you’ve built. What are your own business? Three or four?

There have been a few more in there. A few sales or selling a few businesses as well.

We all run into the roadblocks along the way. It’s never a smooth sail. What are some of the things that you’ve drawn on to be able to push through that when you’ve run into difficult times?

The biggest one that I would say that comes to my mind is commitment. That’s a big word. You can think about commitment in a lot of different ways, but these days more than ever before, we are all, as you know, in professional services. If you’re a consultant or you’re in that space where you’re leveraging your expertise, we’re all surrounded by so many options. So many shiny objects and things that we could be doing to grow our practices or our businesses, ways that we could spend our time. I see far too many people who go down these little rabbit hole. They’re on some webinar and it promises something new or they pick something up and it’s exciting and they look at that as a possibility and that’s good.

It’s always good to look for ways to improve, but because we have so many options these days, the challenge, the real danger is that we start something and then we find the next exciting thing comes our way and then we jump onto that. We then don’t make as much progress. One of the biggest guiding principles that we’ve used in our business over the years has served us well. It’s being focused, it’s ignoring, but pushing to the side a lot of opportunities that come our way. Not because those opportunities couldn’t pay off and not because those opportunities couldn’t necessarily add significant revenue to the business or it’ll be exciting or fun to try out. It’s because we’ve crafted a plan that’s intentional and strategic and we’ve just stuck to it.

Some people might look at and say, “You’re missing so much and there’s so much more that you could be doing. At the same time, it kept our sanity. It’s helped to push the potential for overwhelmed to the side because we always know what we need to be doing. We look at new developments and we’re always looking at new development for our clients but keeping the commitment to the plan that we’ve made and sticking to it has been something that a lot of people could benefit a lot more from. You’ve got to make sure you have the right plan in place but as long as you do, then making sure that you’re working that plan consistently and being committed to it rather than trying something new and then as soon as the next new thing comes around and you try that. Oftentimes, people don’t give enough time to what they’re doing to see if it’s working and then they hop on that next shiny object and wonder why they’re not making as much progress as they would like to.

You said you’ve got to make sure you have the right plan. That’s where people get tripped up. In the early days of any strategy, no matter what it is, sometimes it’s difficult to see the real payoff. You feel like it should be going faster. You have that time period in there at the beginning where maybe the results are beginning to happen, but they’re not happening very fast and it doesn’t feel like you’re going anywhere. To persevere through that and trust that, “I’ve got the right strategy,” then that’s the stage where it’s tempting to look at whatever’s on that webinar or the next launch that’s going on, “Maybe I need that thing.”

A lot of people find a kind that they’re seeing some level of success or something is happening or in some cases maybe it’s not happening yet but then they say to themselves, “How much better could things be if I added onto what I’m already doing or if I changed what I’m doing?” I understand that. A lot of people have this mindset that it’s more powerful to add to your business, “What else can I do? What else can I add?” If you look at the most successful companies and businesses out there, they are masters not in addition, they’re masters at subtraction. They find what can we remove from our business or how can we make our model even more simplified. It takes a lot of commitment.

It’s hard especially when we’re all bombarded with these new exciting offers all the time. It’s easy to see how you could say, “What if I added this to my business?” A classic example is I had a conversation with the consultant and they said to me, “Michael, I’m doing fairly well in my consulting business, but I want to take things to the next level. Do you think I could add on and start selling eBooks and products and courses?” I was like, “You could do it but if we spend time talking about that right now without solving these other issues that you’ve just told me about, that would be a real disservice to your business. You could see a significantly greater impact just focusing more on the path that you’re already on and optimizing that rather than just adding on something completely new. Not that you shouldn’t do it, not that you can’t do it but it may not be the right focus for you right now.”

 You’ve got to make sure you have the right plan in place

You’ve got to make sure you have the right plan in place

Timing is important. I’ve become a fan of this word seasons later. I finally begun to accept the fact that there are seasons in life and there are seasons in your business. There are times when certain strategies and certain approaches make a lot of sense, and times when they don’t. You’ve got to match the approach that you’re taking to growing the business to where you are in the cycle of the business. It’s been interesting in the last probably two years. We’ve cracked the code on a system to attract leads for our consulting programs. As a result, I’ve had a tremendous number of one-on-one calls with professionals who are at some various stage of growing their business.

It’s been enlightening because what I discovered out of all of that is that for probably most of the businesses on the planet, they don’t need hundreds of customers. They don’t need thousands of customers. If they had a consistent way to add two to ten a month, it would change their lives. Imagine for the consultants you’re working with, the same is probably true because they’re dealing with very valuable, but very small number of clients. You don’t need big elaborate systems to do that. You need very simple systems, but you need focus. I’m pleased that you brought that up because that is one of the difficult things for people right now to deal with because of all the options that are out there.

Michael, you just shared some of the best wisdom that we’ve had on the podcast, around the need to focus and simplify. In fact, you wrote about it in the book. I’d love for you to tell everybody a little bit about the book first, and what motivated you to write it. Then I’d like to dive into some of these sixteen different principles that you’ve built into the book because they’re very powerful.

I wrote The Elite Consulting Mind because more than tactics and more than strategy, the biggest factor in all of our success as consultants and professional service providers is our mindset. You can have all the tactics and all the strategies in the world, you can be armed with the latest technologies, but if you don’t have the right mindset, you’re ultimately not going to create what I call meaningful success, success that matters. I’m not talking only about money. I’m talking about obviously growing revenue and sales and profit, but at the same time, you get in the way that you have a business that is meaningful to you. For some people, that means spending more time with family and loved ones. For others, it means freedom, flexibility to travel, and work from anywhere. Whatever it is, whatever meaningful success is to you, that’s what it’s all about.

As I’ve worked over the years, I’ve been building consulting businesses now for almost eighteen years. I’ve worked with hundreds of consultants all around the world and time and time again, the factor that I see that separates those that are experiencing great success in their business from those that aren’t or are struggling, the biggest factor comes down to their mindset. In The Elite Consulting Mind, what I’ve done is compiled sixteen of these mindsets. There are more but these are the ones that I see a lot and hear a lot from clients and from people that we work with or in workshops and training. Explained my take on them and how they can impact people and how to look at these situations in a different way.

What it is are the kinds of conversations that I would have and do have on a regular basis with our clients but put into a book form. My hope and real goal with it is that people can unlock this potential that they have l that so many people have inside of them, but they haven’t realized it yet because they haven’t allowed their mindset to shift from where it is. People are usually very focused on what they know and what they see right now. There’s a lot more within them. There’s a lot more greatness, a lot more capacity to do things that they maybe I dream of but haven’t been able to create it. By shifting their mindset by maybe having this kind of conversation and giving them real life examples from our clients, which is what the book does and gives my real hope is that people can realize more of their true potential to create more meaningful success in their businesses.

The way you’ve organized this makes it easy for somebody to come in to the book and you can either go through it, start to finish more. You can pick and choose where you’re having an issue. As you look at the sixteen different mindsets that you’ve cataloged in here, are there some that you feel like are more important than the others? If somebody gets the book, is there someplace to focus first?

There’s some that are more common, but there is no right or wrong. There’s one shop that talks about the best model. A lot of people out there now are always saying, “This is the best model, the best strategy, the best tactic,” and I just say, “Baloney.” I don’t believe there’s a best. It depends on your specific situation, your specific goals and it’s the same idea with the right model. There’s many people that you and I probably know and probably we would know the same people even who run very successful information product businesses. That’s what they do. That’s what their model is. There’s others who we know who are doing very personalized one-to-one service delivery. Lots of different models.

Everyone can be successful at them, but there is no just one right way or one right model. Is there one chapter that people should start with? I would say no because it depends on where you are at. For some people, one chapter, I might be very relevant for the mindset of the challenge that they’re having right now where they’re getting hung up. One big one, if we know, if we were to start with one, maybe for the sake of this conversation, a lot of people have an issue with. I’m a very big believer and I use the term a lot with my clients of imperfect action.

There is a lot of opportunity that people leave on the table because they don’t take action, and this can be applied to their marketing to going on and try and have conversations with prospects to a lot of different aspects of business. People don’t go because they’re trying to always perfect things. They want things to be just right before they go up, before they tell the world about it. In effect, what they’re doing is delaying their progress. If we think of it at the end of the day, we use this as an example here. If you’re selling those services, you don’t sell those services without having a conversation. You need to have a conversation with the ideal client, with the buyer. If you need to have a conversation and it would probably make sense, focus on having conversations with people and go out there and get that kind of feedback.

 You don't sell those services without having a conversation. You need to have a conversation with the ideal client, with the buyer.

You don’t sell those services without having a conversation. You need to have a conversation with the ideal client, with the buyer.

What a lot of people do is they do almost everything possible not to have a conversation. They spend time updating their website or creating some fancy materials or they think about this presentation or they, they prepare and they’re going in circles, but they’re not actually getting out there and having the conversation or going to where their ideal clients are to get feedback. Even with people’s messaging, they think about what should my value proposition look like? They spend weeks upon weeks and sometimes months trying to perfect their value proposition, but if you think about it, what’s the best way to get feedback and to know if you have the right value proposition? It’s not what you think. It’s about getting that feedback from the marketplace.

How do you do that? Put it out there. Get it in front of people and there’s different ways to do that. At the end of the day, what you want to do is you want to get it out there. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It shouldn’t be perfect. Reid Hoffman, there’s a good quote years ago about when he built and LinkedIn, which was that if you wait to launch your business, something along the lines of, “A way to launch your business or whatever it is your product like to the point where it looks good, then you’ve waited way too long.” You should be getting your product out there even when it doesn’t look that good. There’s a lot of smarts in that comment. I’m a big believer in that idea of imperfect action. I believe that a lot of people would be better served when they would make a lot more progress, would feel a lot more momentum in their business if they didn’t hold onto this idea of perfection, but rather just got it out there. Just put what they have out there and build on that.

The thought that you could get it to perfect in the first place is a scary thought because that’s never going to happen. No matter how much time you spend on it, it’s never going to get there. A lot of times, the reason that people get stuck in that, they start looking at what they perceive to be the ideal. They look at maybe what a competitor is doing, maybe they look at Michael Zipursky, “Here’s what he’s done and built two consulting businesses and I’ve got to have it as perfect as Michael would have it.” They think that there’s some ideal that they’re trying to go meet. It’s always illusive, it’s always moving away from you.

Instead of putting it out there and getting a result and creating your own learning, the dangerous thing with the learning part is you might not like the lesson that you’re taught the first time or the second time or the third time because there’s risk in that. That’s where people get caught up. I know you run into this with your clients, we run into it with ours. Oftentimes, a lot of the input that we give them is more akin to doing therapy than it is anything else around, “Here’s your message and here’s the way we’re going to put it out there. It’s okay to put it out there. It’s okay if it’s not exactly the perfect language, but you’ve got to get it out there because it’s not going to sell anything if you don’t get it out there.”

That’s the mindset piece, Steve. That’s what it comes down to is it’s the mindset to allow things, to allow yourself to try things, to learn, to look at a potential mistake and just see it as a learning experience and realizing that the most successful people, entrepreneurs, lots of different business owners, the most successful are those that are trying more and more stuff. They’re putting stuff out there. Another angle on this would be talking about offers. I talked about this in the book about how important it is to make offers. A lot of consultants, professional service providers hold back on offering their expertise because they’re worried. They feel like they’re going to be seen as salespeople and they’re going to be perceived as being pushy. If you think about it, you’re there to help. You’re there to offer expertise, to create transformation.

You can’t do that if you’re not engaging. If you’re not working with that person, you can’t work with them if you don’t make an offer. Most people find that a business doesn’t just come to their feet over and over again, at least not to get your business to a sustainable level. You have to make an offer if you find there’s someone who you can help and provide value to, then it’s in their best interest and your best interest too to make that offer. A lot of people have this hesitation and that’s also a mindset is to shift it, to see why it makes sense so that you feel more comfortable with it.

Getting through that process is difficult. We’ve all had to go through it. I know that it’s difficult, but even from the outside, what we would call very successful business owners. We’ve got a couple of clients that have come through in the last year who have thriving businesses that have been around for a decade or more. They’re now trying to go to that next level. They have that little thing that’s holding them back. They want everything to be perfect and instead of putting it out there, that’s a very good one that applies in so many areas of the business. If you can get to a point where you’re okay with just taking action and learning from it, I always find that what makes that easier is if you take small actions. “Aim small, miss small.” If you take a lot of small actions and iterate quickly, it’s not like you’re going to go out there and make the gigantic million-dollar mistake. Those are hard to recover from, but you certainly can go take a small action and be a little bit off and not be harmed in any way.

The big problem with taking big action is that if it’s too big, then you’re spending too much time preparing and not enough time getting it out there. As you mentioned, a small action but done consistently is what leads to a big action. You’re targeting and working towards a big goal. How do you get that? Break it down. What are the steps that are required? As long as you’re taking those steps consistently, then you’re going to make the progress to ultimately reach the goal that you’re going after.

We’ve got folks who are at different stages of growth in their business. I always like to break it down and the three main stages for any professional business are getting off the ground, the zero to a quarter million in revenue. Then, from a quarter million to about three quarters of a million and then from there, crossing that million-dollar threshold. There are ones beyond that, but for most of the businesses that we work with, those are the threshold. For somebody at that lower level who’s getting started, maybe they’re making an okay living right now, but they’re trying to get it going in sustainable. What are some of the things that they should be focusing on?

 The big problem with taking big action is that if it's too big, then you're spending too much time preparing and not enough time getting it out there.

The big problem with taking big action is that if it’s too big, then you’re spending too much time preparing and not enough time getting it out there.

There could be a lot and it depends on what their situation is. I had a conversation with a client who decided to book $46,000 in new client business and another client that brought in five new clients. The first was an instance of focusing and reworking their approach to proposals. In the past, I had a very different, much more standard old-style proposal process and we help them to rework that. In the second case, it was about looking at their offers and simplifying them and putting a lot better structure into them so they weren’t just doing this customization, recreating their delivery model with every new client.

We get questions all the time about proposals. I know that that’s a big question, like, “How do I do this proposal so that people will actually sign it?” As you’re working with folks through that process, what are some of the things you look for?

The most important is for people to recognize that this is partly to do with mindset, but it’s have an understanding that is not meant to win business for you. Anyone that uses a proposal to win business is missing the point and will end up leaving a lot of money on the table. The proposal is meant to confirm, meant to get the acceptance from both sides formalized. Introduce things like pricing if that hasn’t been discussed yet, but you should only be putting a proposal in front of someone once you’ve got to the point where they’ve given you acceptance. That they’ve told you, “That sounds great. Let’s do this. Let’s move forward. Let’s explore how we can work together.” That is a big issue because one of the most common mistakes that I see people making is that they send proposals too early and they use those proposals almost like their sales process.

They try and include all this language in the proposal to justify why the buyer should engage with them. If you’re doing that, if you think about it, you know what’s going to be more effective in winning business? You having a conversation with the buyer where you can go back and forth to discuss their issues and be the opportunity for them or one side of the content in a document hoping that you’re conveying the right things. The first of having the conversation is going to be much more effective. Yet a lot of people do the opposite. They try and use the proposals to win business. That is one big issue that a lot of people deal with or face. The other is on the case of this client that out of the four $6,000 of new business that came from the switching from this old-style proposal, which was pages and pages and pages, legalese or very dry document to a proposal as much more focused on value and on ROI.

Using the proposal to confirm the opportunity that you’ve explored with the buyer and then helping them to justify it, making it very easy for them to see like, “This makes sense.” If I make this investment, this is what I stand to gain from it. That doesn’t have to be complicated but so many people don’t take that opportunity to communicate ROI value and what the benefit is for the buyer.

What ends up happening is a proposal comes into the organization, and then if you’re dealing with the single buyer and they have sole decision-making authority, that’s fine, but in many cases, that proposal we passed around. If it’s passed around the people that are seeing the proposals, we’re going to give feedback to the person that you’ve been speaking with. They don’t know everything that’s gone on in the past and so they’re judging the proposal based on what they see there. If you don’t have these elements that can help to communicate that value, then they’re not going to see the value and then their feedback to the person who is going to make the decision isn’t going to be most likely as positive as you’d like it to be. It’s important that people included those elements.

Then another one that I’ve written some content on it and some articles before this idea of input versus output. A lot of people in their proposals use language that is very focused on like, “Here’s what we’re going to do for you. Here’s our methodology, here’s our process.” It’s all about them. They think that buyers are buying because of them but that’s not what buyers are buying. Buyers are buying a result. They’re buying a transformation there, they’re buying what they get. It’s important that as a consultant that you’re communicating not just what you’re going to do. It’s fine to outline what you’re going to do. Buyers want to know that, but much more important than that is like the way I describe to my clients is when you’re crafting these sentences in your proposal or this report, these bullet points, there’s two parts.

The first part, tell them what you’re going to do but then tell them what the buyer’s going to get from what you do, “We’re going to do this, which creates this result for you.” If you’re always looking at your proposal from the perspective of the buyer and thinking, “Is it clear what the buyer’s going to get? Because the value there, do they see the ROI? Is it going to be an easy decision for them?” Then you’re going to see that buyers will look at that proposal. Have the value clear to them and then the decision-making process to them becomes much easier in the investment, even at higher levels become much easier because they can justify that investment.

 Buyers are buying a result.

Buyers are buying a result.

You start speaking their language. The first part of the thing we see all the time is that the proposal is written as a laundry list of things that the consulting firm or the professional service firm is going to do. From my prior life in engineering, I know that we used to do that because it helped hedge us from scope creep, which is a real thing and it’s important, but it can also un-sell somebody. Now, it almost sets up this, “We’re going to count the pennies kind of relationship and that’s not why anybody is coming to you.” They’re coming to you because they want an outcome. They want you to tell them, “I’m going to give you the outcome pretty much no matter what it takes and I’m willing to pay x for that.”

I know you’ve got to hedge some of that sometimes, but that can get in the way of communicating what the value is. Thanks for bringing that up. That’s a huge takeaway for anybody that’s doing proposals. That one little shift can make a big, big difference. Michael, the book is The Elite Consulting Mind. Where can folks go and find the book and where can they find more about you?

The book will be on Amazon paperback and Kindle formats, but you can go in the book page on our site, it’s ConsultingSuccess.com/MindsetBook if you’d like a free 52-page guide, low growing your consulting business. You can also go to a ConsultingSuccess.com. It’s easy to find that in many different places. We have over 900 articles at this point now on consulting with plenty of interviews and videos and all kinds of resources. If anyone’s looking to grow their consulting business, they’ll find something of value there.

Michael, thanks so much for being here. It’s great to catch up with you again and congratulations on the book. 

Steve, a real pleasure.

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