“Solo Consulting Business”

13m | Jan 19, 2023

Episode 22: David Shriner-Cahn, Smashing the Plateau


[00:00:00] Welcome to the Pathways to Profitability Podcast, personal Tales of Business Success, where we hear local business owners personal stories of their trials and tribulations that got them to where they are today. Here's your host, Cheryl Mucha, CEO of CFO Your way.

Cheryl Mucha: Hello and thank you so much for being here today on the Pathways to Profitability Podcast.

Cheryl Mucha: Our guest today is David Shriner-Cahn from Smashing the Plateau. David, thank you so much for being here with us today.

David Shriner-Cahn: Thank you, Cheryl. Great to be here.

Cheryl Mucha: So, I like to just give our audience a little bit of a background about David and Smashing the Plateau. If you could just give us a brief overview of those two things.

David Shriner-Cahn: Yeah, absolutely. So, my career story is I spent the first 28 years of my career as an employee, first as an engineer for the first four to five years of my career. [00:01:00] Then in the non-profit sector in management and leadership roles. And then 16 years ago, in, in 2006, I left employment and started a solo consulting business that has evolved over the years, and particularly through content creation, primarily podcasting, which I started in 2014, that has led to a focus on helping consultants build their business following a late career job loss, and we launched a membership community for consultants earlier this year in January 2022.

Cheryl Mucha: So David, you transferred from engineering non-for-profit world to being an entrepreneur. What was the impetus for that, that switchover?

David Shriner-Cahn: So, the first switch from engineer to non-profit was, I was doing well as an engineer. And just after my second performance review, which was a very positive performance review, and I got a big raise, my boss called me into his office and he said, David, I have good news and bad news.

David Shriner-Cahn: The good news is you're doing a [00:02:00] great job, the bad news is you don't have a job here anymore. Wow. And the reality is I was young and naive and not paying attention to the actual business of the company that I worked for. I was doing engineering, solving engineering job, right. Doing my job, doing well. And I didn't realize that the company had lost a lot of business and then had a big layoff.

David Shriner-Cahn: And so I was one of the victims along with many other staff members. I did a lot of soul searching. I, I was looking ahead at, you know, do I really wanna do this for another 30 or 40 years? And actually there were a lot of layoffs going on in my industry. Particularly workers that were in their fifties that were a little short of being fully vested in their pension plans.

David Shriner-Cahn: Cuz back in those days, companies had pension plans. And I'm like I don’t wanna do this. So I was thinking at least let me see if there's a way I can make a living doing something that I like better. Maybe there'll be, you know, better security. Maybe not, but at least I'll, I'll feel better about the work.

David Shriner-Cahn: That's when I ended up in the nonprofit sector. Nice. And [00:03:00] you know, that experience really stayed with me and it colored a lot of what I did following that. And I also paid close attention to other layoffs that were going on around me in the workplace during my entire career. And I saw that in the not not-for-profit sector, many organizations behaved not all that much differently than public corporations or businesses in the private sector where loyalty to employees was not always that great.

David Shriner-Cahn: And I really wanted to have more control over my destiny. I wanted to be in charge of figuring out how to actually put money in the bank. So the linear career progression for me would've been, you know, after I'd been in the nonprofit sector for over two decades, it would've been to go to a bigger organization in a similar role.

David Shriner-Cahn: Or a higher level role in a similar size organization. And I had decided that what I really wanted to do was just become a solo consultant. I had hired many consultants over the course of my career. [00:04:00] I had friends that were consultants. I figured, you know, I could do the same thing I'm doing now. I liked what I was doing.

David Shriner-Cahn: I was good at it. Let me just do it for multiple clients rather than doing it for one employer. And the trigger was that I did get pushed out of my last job. I saw it coming about a year before it happened. There was a new CEO and it was pretty clear that, yeah, there was some duplication of skillsets between me and the new CEO.

David Shriner-Cahn: We got along well, to say, you know, as far as these exits are concerned, the agency was about as gracious as, as one might hope for, yet it was the actual trigger that caused me to open my business. Right. And also it was really painful and it was traumatic. And the, the thing that I, you know, years later I reflected back on the fact I didn't tell anybody that I, that my job was terminated.

David Shriner-Cahn: I just said that I was leaving and I was starting a consulting business. Right. And most people that knew me, were like really surprised and like, well, why are you doing this? You, you've been at the same agency for 18 years. You know, you're well respected in the field. What, what's behind [00:05:00] this? And then it would say, well, what are you gonna do for health insurance?

David Shriner-Cahn: And I'm like, well, you know, I could buy it. But you know, this, this kind of ties into what I had done much later in my consulting business when I started my podcast in 2014, Smashing the Plateau and started digging deeper into what does it take for people that are selling their expertise primarily as consultants, coaches, or, or some kinda solo or very small professional service business.

David Shriner-Cahn: What does it take for them to be successful? And I discovered that my journey was actually quite common and that there were many people that I had known for a long time that were successful in their consulting business. It started their business when I got fired.

Cheryl Mucha: David, you mentioned about, you know, the journey and how everyone's journey is kind of unique and I love hearing the stories.

Cheryl Mucha: I mean, that's what the podcast is all about, the, the story of the journey. So, and your journey of course, was unique just like everyone else's, but tell us a little bit now about [00:06:00] post making that leap of faith into entrepreneurship and building the business, and a little bit about how you interact with your clients.

David Shriner-Cahn: So Cheryl, I started my consulting business knowing what kind of work I wanted to do and what kinds of clients I wanted to serve. So I wanted to serve non-profit organizations, particularly those that were weak in their finances and their operations. That was my strength. But what I didn't have was a plan on lead generation.

David Shriner-Cahn: Anything to do with marketing and sales. I knew about finance and operations. That was what I was good at. So when it came to like looking at my business' P&L I was fine. Which is you know, not the case with many people starting out. Now you're talking my language! Right. So, all of that stuff I understood quite well, but I was clueless about how to actually go about getting clients.

David Shriner-Cahn: And I, and I didn't have any clients day one. I was starting from scratch.

Cheryl Mucha: Yeah. And it's funny because [00:07:00] so many conversations I have with entrepreneurs, they go into business, I always say to build their widget, they're good at whatever, whatever that thing is. And they don't realize that we have to wear all those hats.

Cheryl Mucha: The finance, the marketing, the IT, all those other things that come along with it. But we're good at what we do and we love what we do, right?

David Shriner-Cahn: It's like the classic e-myth story. And, and I had no problem wearing all the hats. I just like, like with many of these, these things, we know what we know, we know what we don't know.

David Shriner-Cahn: And now our plans are based on those things. We don't know what we don't know. And so like, I had a real epiphany about a year into my business, and by the way, I did get clients fairly early on, primarily through my network, which is how most consultants get started. I had an epiphany, a friend of. Who had a similar trajectory, leaving decades of employment and starting her own business, invited me to attend a business networking event.

David Shriner-Cahn: And I had never been to an event like that. It was a BNI meeting. Many, many [00:08:00] people I think are familiar with the BNI business networking model. I walked into the room and I was, I was really blown away by the fact that here were, you know, there were probably 30 people in the room, all of whom were there to try to help their colleagues get leads through word of mouth marketing.

David Shriner-Cahn: And I thought, oh, this is brilliant. And I joined and that was really a game changer for me when it came to marketing and sales, cuz it forced me to be much clearer on my positioning when I had to get up and give my first commercial. I was kind of clueless about how to do. And I'm sure it showed, but I got up and did it anyway.

David Shriner-Cahn: And I, started to focus on, on how do I actually create a, a sensible elevator pitch that I can give in less than 60 seconds, and who do I actually want to serve and how do I find those people and how do I speak to those people? What are their pain points? So I started to learn a lot about marketing as a result of that.

David Shriner-Cahn: [00:09:00] And I started picking up some private business clients as a result as well. So, you know, at the same time, I, my business shifted from just serving nonprofits to serving many of the kinds of folks that were both in the room at BNI and those people that they knew, which were mostly small businesses and frankly many solo businesses like mine.

David Shriner-Cahn: So I ended up over time, not intentionally, but I ended up over time kind of becoming an expert in how you build a solo consulting business. Particularly when you have a career trajectory like mine where you spend 20 plus years in the organizational world, whether it's in, you know, large corporations, you know, small to mid-size businesses, the non-profit sector, but then you go from being an employee to being an entrepreneur.

David Shriner-Cahn: And right, you could stay in the same discipline, but your mindset has to be totally different. You know, one of the things I say is when you're an employee, if you're wrong, more than 10% of the time, you get in trouble. And when you're an [00:10:00] entrepreneur, if you're right, more than 10% of the time, you're doing really well.

David Shriner-Cahn: Right? It's like, it's, it's totally different. And you know, the, the kinds of, of activities that you need, need to be involved in are totally different. Your focus needs to be very different.

Cheryl Mucha: I always say though too, that we need that experience as an employee in order to be the entrepreneur, like without that experience.

Cheryl Mucha: Knowledge and maybe having a mentor to guide us and teach us, we wouldn't be prepared to be an entrepreneur. I mean, there's so many things with being an entrepreneur that we're not prepared for anyway, but you need that basis. You need those, those lessons, and some of them are life lessons, some of them are business lessons.

Cheryl Mucha: There's so much that goes into our lives, that point of making that transition is at the time when we're ready.

David Shriner-Cahn: Absolutely, I couldn't agree more, Cheryl.

Cheryl Mucha: So I pulled a quote off your website, which I absolutely love, and I just wanna share it with our audience and maybe you can comment afterwards, but [00:11:00] it's, it's on the Smashing the Plateau website.

Cheryl Mucha: Under the private community: “relationships with your peers is the foundation here. This is because we've heard and seen just how lonely a journey it can be for high achieving professionals to go from employment to consulting.” I love that quote because it is lonely being an entrepreneur and we need those like-minded business professionals around us, not necessarily to be clients, not necessarily to be someone that we hire to coach us, but just to have those conversations and throw ideas back and forth.

David Shriner-Cahn: Yeah. When you think about it, when you're in an organization as an employee you had these water cooler conversations, whether they're structured or unstructured, and you go from a place where you are, particularly if you're a high achiever, you go from a place where your calendar is always full.

David Shriner-Cahn: Your inbox is overflowing. You're [00:12:00] overwhelmed with the amount of things you need to do, and you have this building social structure. And then you walk out the door again, whether it's literal or figurative. You walk out the door and all of a sudden your inbox is empty, your calendar is empty, and you're spending all this time alone and your friends, quote unquote friends from your, your job, your last job suddenly start to ghost you.

David Shriner-Cahn: All kinds of things go through your head. So literally it is lonely, especially at the beginning. But also you're trying to figure all these new things out and you need people to talk to about what you're going through. Absolutely. So, so you know what it is you need to figure out. I can't tell you how many times in a community someone has suggested something and someone else says, oh, I never even thought of that.

David Shriner-Cahn: That's such a great idea. Right.

Cheryl Mucha: It's bring great minds together. Exactly. And every, again, everyone's experience is a little bit different, but we've all experienced it. Exactly. So, David, thank you so much for being here today. Just share with our audience how they get in touch with [00:13:00] you and any last minute comments or things you wanna share with our audience.

David Shriner-Cahn: Absolutely. Yeah, so is the repository of everything related to what we're doing. We have many hundreds of podcast episodes on all topics related to entrepreneurship, particularly for consultants, coaches, and solo professionals. And we also have information about the Smashing the Plateau community where like-minded folks spend a lot of time.

Cheryl Mucha: Thank you again David for being here. I really enjoyed our conversation and thank you to our audience for tuning in to Pathways to Profitability podcast. Have a wonderful day.

Cheryl Mucha: That's it for today's episode of Pathways to Profitability. Remember to ask yourself, where can I pay my success forward today?

Pathways to Profitability Podcast: Personal Tales of Business Success