The Consultant Mindset - Interview w/ Laura Khalil

February 23, 2021


In this episode of the Growing Design Podcast, Laura Khalil walks us through her career as a successful marketing consultant. From working with startups to building her own firm and consulting some of the largest tech companies.  

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Ed Orozco (00:00):
Hello, welcome everyone. To another episode of Growing Design today, we are with Laura Kaleo and she has a ton of experience on a lot of things that are very relevant to these podcasts. So I'm very happy to have her own. Thank you, Laura, for accepting to come onto the podcast. And why don't you introduce yourself very quickly for the audience, what you do and yeah,

Laura Khalil (00:26):
Thank you for having me. I'm really excited to be here. So I have a lot of experience running my own agency, which I've been doing since 2013 and in that time and I, and by the way, just so the audience knows I'm not a designer, but I've worked with tons of designers in my work, and I've worked in sort of creative direction roles, advising for companies like Intel, GE, Twitter, Intuit, and many more on how to tell great stories through content. And that includes design. And so I'm excited to talk to you today about some of what I've learned along the way and how to be successful, especially if you have an agency or you are on your own trying to freelance. We'll talk about that.

Ed Orozco (01:14):
Awesome. All right. So can you tell us a little bit about your experience starting a marketing consultancy? How, how, first of all, why did you start it? Like what was sort of like your, your prompt to start your own marketing consultancy and what your experience was like at the beginning?

Laura Khalil (01:34):
So I started my own marketing consultancy because I was collecting what I like to call an unofficial PhD in getting laid off. And I, I mean, I'm just going to be real with you and I could not keep a job. Part of the problem was especially as a woman living and working in Silicon Valley, I had a lot of challenges in a male dominated industry, being an individual contributor. And, you know, my parents are both immigrants. And when they came to the United States, they always said, Laura, the way to make it is to work really hard, to act like you're a leader. And then people will accept that you're a leader and, you know, you'll get promoted, you'll get more responsibilities, but that didn't really happen for me. In fact very often my boldness, my desire to sort of like just my personality and who I am, those very core pieces of who I am.

Laura Khalil (02:35):
We're really misunderstood as an individual contributor. And so in 2013 I got laid off yet again, and I had this and I had this moment where I really said to myself, I can see the future and I can see if I do this again, by going to try to get a full-time job. Again, this is the path that I will continue to go down because I'd been going down that path for six years. And I said, that definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result and I'm feeling insane. So I am, I am. And I say this to everyone who feels frustrated with anything in your life, you're the common denominator in your experience. And so the only thing I can do, because I can't change myself and the core personality traits of who I am, those are not going anywhere, but I can change who I surround myself with.

Laura Khalil (03:31):
And so I literally got laid off on a Friday morning, Friday afternoon, I'm building a website. I'm just trying to create a presence for myself. I'm throwing up logos of everyone I've worked with. And within six weeks of doing that, I gained my first fortune 100 client that was Intel. Then I got GE. Then I got Twitter. Then I got into it. And so for me, it happened really quickly. And I realized it happened for me pretty quickly. One, because I actually knew what I was doing. And I was pretty good at my job. Like most people who are listening to this, you're probably very accomplished at what you're doing. You just need the right people to notice you, you need to get into the right rooms. I think sometimes we really can undervalue ourselves because we think, Oh, I'm not appreciated for my job.

Laura Khalil (04:22):
That's not necessarily true. You're just not in the right room. You're not talking to the right people. And for me, when I talk about personality and I have this like really bold, outgoing personality, I just realized I was when I was working full time, I was doing a future job in a present role. And nobody is going to appreciate you if you're trying to become something that they don't want today. So I had to really take the reins and assume that and say, no, you're a leader. You're a, bad-ass, you're going to run your own company. And I did. So that's how it started.

Ed Orozco (04:59):
That's an awesome story. I, I imagined the white folk in San Francisco, they didn't really like your, your attitudes.

Laura Khalil (05:11):
I don't understand why, but you know, my, my consulting clients just adored me and they adored me for the same traits that penalized me as a full-time employee. Those became my greatest assets as a leader. And I want everyone listening to remember this. When you go in as a consultant and think of yourself immediately, think of yourself as a consultant, just if anyone is listening and they call themselves a freelancer, let's just make a reframe here right now and say your, a consultant, why consultants are experts. And I know you're an expert at what you do when you go in as a consultant, you're there to solve problems and, and maybe you'll solve problems through design. But if you can, the client, I'm here to solve a problem for you, rather than I'm just a hired hand to make an Instagram graphic for you. That's going to separate you from charging. I don't know, a hundred bucks for that to $5,000 for that. That's part of the difference is you need to make the shift of, I saw problems. I am not just a hired gun because you can go find a hired gun on Fiverr or a or any of those sites. You have to really expand your vision and show the client what's possible. That's how you get paid.

Ed Orozco (06:34):
I love that. Yeah, what happens a lot is that people actually think that they have to compete with those like sore of, I call them the bottom feeders which is a little you know, maybe, you know, appropriate book,

Ed Orozco (06:52):
But yeah, it's like, it's, it's going to be a really hard for you to compete with people you know, in a price war, because you're always going to be, you're not, you cannot out out-compete them on price because they have lower costs because for whatever reason, they are willing to charge us little as possible. And the type of clients that you attract with lower prices are not the type of clients that you want to attract. You are offering something else. You're not offering templates. You're not offering predetermined Cotter solutions. You're offering your thinking, which is a lot more valuable. And it's something that you actually can charge for a lot more handsomely than, you know, if you're just selling a fiver logo design. Cool. So, all right. So you started your own marketing agency. You started to land these clients. Did you at any point feel like the classic imposters syndrome at the beginning?

Laura Khalil (07:52):
Yeah, definitely. So one of the things I like to say about imposter syndrome is forget about faking it until you make it. Okay. We're all scared. Everyone's scared. And I work with a lot of leaders in industry today, and guess what? They have imposter syndrome to people. You don't outgrow it. Even if you move up the ladder, everyone has it to some degree, unless of course you're a sociopath and that's legit. If you're a sociopath and you have no fear of anything, then you don't have imposter syndrome, but most people are not sociopaths. So I remember very clearly I, it was, I had left that job. I had like, I was on unemployment. I'm trying to figure out how to get this marketing thing off the ground. So I built this website. I you know, had business cards and I found this agency who wanted to subcontract work out.

Laura Khalil (08:50):
So I got really prepared. I, I always do proposals for all of anyone I'm meeting. I have a PowerPoint or a keynote presentation to show who I am, because that builds instant authority. And so I go with my proposal, I'm meeting them at a coffee shop and I'm scared. I'm really scared. And I feel like I'm kind of like a little bit like shaky and seven I'm like Laura, you know, this just go in. So, and I did, and I gave my proposal and I talked to them and I remember this is, so this is what I'll say about imposter syndrome. Don't fake it until you make it face it until you make it keeps it I'm scared and I'm doing it anyway. I'm shaking like a leaf and I'm going to walk in there and give it my best. Anyhow, I'm going to keep facing the fear.

Laura Khalil (09:39):
I'm not going to run from it. I'm not going to hide. I'm not going to self-sabotage. And if I do, self-sabotage, I'm going to recognize when I'm, self-sabotaging a classic form of self-sabotage ed is people will have a really important presentation or client meeting tomorrow morning. So what do I do tonight? I go hit the bar and I get drunk, or I like, I, you know, I have like some giant meal and I'm like bloated and tired and exhausted and hung over the next morning. And I'm not my best. And we S and so then we go into the meeting looking like, and feeling like a train wreck and acting like a train wreck. And then we say, well, of course I didn't get it. I mean, you know, I wasn't going to get it anyway. That's, self-sabotage, don't do that stuff. Set yourself up for success. Or if you are nervous the night before a big meeting, do some meditation instead of drinking, or instead of, you know, smoking tons of weed or things that are not going to prepare you to be successful the next day, get the, get an app that can help you meditate, help you calm down, help you breathe through it, do things that are more resourceful, because you want to leave a really good impression with people when you meet them. And that's how, that's how I did it. And yeah, it was scared.

Ed Orozco (10:59):
Yeah. I really love what you said about a face. It, face it until you've make it. I read somewhere and I I don't remember where, but it said do eat scared, like, you know, most important things or most things worth doing are going to carry you. So do them anyway, do them scared. And then, you know, until you get used to it

Laura Khalil (11:21):
And it gets better and it gets, you know, it gets easier. The more you do this stuff you know, and I will say, I've had tons of clients say no to me, I've had tons of people say, I can't afford that. I don't want to work with that. Or they just ghost or ignore that happens to all of us. It's not like totally unusual, take those as learning experiences to say, okay, what did I learn from that? What can I take forward? And I say that because I I've gone through anyone in business will go through a lot of, and I kept learning from it and learning from it and learning from it. And after a number of years, I found myself in the boardroom of one of the biggest companies of the world, literally singing for my supper, trying to get my contract extended.

Laura Khalil (12:08):
And I was there with the executives, you know, the, you know, and was I scared? Yes, I was scared. But I said, Laura, you have been preparing for this moment for the last five years, because every know every challenge you've had with a client, everything has brought you and prepared you to make you a better presenter to make you a better speaker, to make you more eloquent, to speak in front of this group of people I did. And I got the contract. And so I'm just saying, take everything that happens. It's not in your way, it's on your way. Treat it as such, treat it as a learning experience.

Ed Orozco (12:52):
So what did, what do you think was, or what did you start doing in those early days to serve scale your agency alike, to keep growing, to get all of these amazing clients that you work with? What were you trying to I don't know, get speaking gigs where you're trying to run Facebook ads, like, how did you manage to get to those big clients?

Laura Khalil (13:20):
So to be honest with you, I think sometimes we really over-complicate this stuff, what you really need to do. Yes. You need to have a brand and yes, personal branding is important. Make sure your LinkedIn is updated. Make sure you have a website. It does not need to be crazy complicated. My website was very simple, very simple, but I took it as simple means. Elegant, simple means like chic, you know, that's how I kind of tried to portray it because I'm not a designer. I'm not gonna, you know, make it super fancy. Cause I can't. So you need those basics. Absolutely. Because the first thing people are going to do when they hear about you is they're going to Google you. What's your LinkedIn look like what's your website looked like what's a on your Twitter, that type of thing. So you need to have the, you know, have your house in order.

Laura Khalil (14:09):
People get into especially big corporate jobs and corporate gigs like this. A lot of it is going to be through who, you know, the most important thing and it's not going to be nobody at Intel is reading Facebook ads looking to hire you. I guarantee it. They're not doing it. Okay. Nobody at any big company is sitting there. Gee, I need to find a marketer. Let me go to a Facebook ad. No, what they're doing is they're relying on their network. They're saying, who do you know, they're talking to people. They know the best thing that anyone can do is develop a list of people. You know, who are either people who would hire you or people who are adjacent to those who make hiring decisions, do informal coffee chats. Do you know, Hey, I'm doing a little monthly meetup on zoom, or I'm doing a monthly meetup in person.

Laura Khalil (15:14):
Why don't you come? It's not a sales event. It's like, get to know you event. It's a keep yourself top of mind event. People get very, very, very distracted by all of this online marketing stuff. And I'm not saying you shouldn't do the online marketing path. That certainly works for some people, especially if you're looking for, you know, smaller clients. But a lot of this stuff is relationships and it's word of mouth. And the reason I didn't have to do any of that really is because people knew who I was and your work will speak for yourself and you will get booked up. But so I'll give you an example right now I do a lot of podcast consulting. That's where my business is primarily today. So do I go to companies right now and just try to find like someone in the podcast world that's kind of hard to search for.

Laura Khalil (16:11):
So what do we want to look for? Well, who would someone at a big company work with to run a podcast? They'd probably want to work with ad agencies. They probably ask other creatives in their industry. Who do you know, who does this? So the first thing I do is go network with those people so that you can become the referral for them, right? That's how you, that's how you do this. It's a lot easier than, you know, creating. And I'm not saying don't create freebies and don't do that. That's all useful if that's what your business needs, but it can also be a lot simpler, simpler than that with sort of relationship marketing, really getting to know people. Remember this is how we did things. And I mean, I might be the only one listening to this as old enough to remember life before the internet. But this is how we did things before we had the internet. We actually talked to people and you can do really, really well by just talking to people.

Ed Orozco (17:11):
So you mentioned something that I think is very important, which is this, the big guys and the big companies are not on Facebook and are hanging out on LinkedIn all day. They are very busy people and also they have a lot of risk that they have to manage. So they cannot afford hiring a total stranger to, you know, execute a 50 K a hundred K plus project. So they want to hire someone that has a referral, like, think about the last thing that was expensive that you bought. You probably did a lot of research by asking your friends or watching reviews on YouTube or whatever it was because you trust people who have had the firsthand experience. So I think, I think what you're saying, it's very, very powerful. And then yeah, the younger millennials forget that before the internet, we didn't have Facebook ads, ads. We didn't have Google ads, so on and so forth. So that's, I really love that part.

Laura Khalil (18:13):
And ed, let me ask this to the audience. Let me just pose this question to the audience. When was the last time you bought anything off of a Facebook ad? You tell me. Yeah. I mean, I can't even remember the last and I'm not saying they're not effective. I'm saying that's not where most people are looking to hire a service provider. That's just not, unless you have an extremely niche product that immediately solves a burning problem. I have right now, I am not going to, why would I hire you that way? I'm going to go talk to people. I know I'm going to go talk to my creatives. I'm going to go talk to my agency, friends before I go to a Facebook ad.

Ed Orozco (19:00):
Yeah. I was just thinking, I do buy little things here and there off of Instagram, but they're usually like, Oh, I'm going to buy a light room preset for like five bucks. I'm going to buy this. Oh, these, these, you know, these winter socks look very cute. I'm going to apply them for like, that's it. Like I never bought like something expensive out of out of ads. Right?

Laura Khalil (19:26):
And so what, what here's here is a strategy that you could use. I'm going to buy a Lightroom preset. Great. Let's say you, someone listening to that sells Lightroom presets. Awesome. Now you've got them on your list. They've already purchased something for you for five bucks. Great. Now you can nurture that. You can take them down the funnel, you know, see where they go. If that's the type of business you want to run. But you can't, you can't get people in and say, Hey, I'm a designer. I charge 150 bucks an hour. You need me? I'm going to be like, no, no I don't.

Ed Orozco (20:02):
Yeah, exactly. Also like it's going to be hard for someone to trust you. Cause, cause here's, here's the thing about when you connect with people so quick, as like in ads or asking, like when you do outbound strategy, you don't have time to build the trust. That's required for people to hire you for big projects. So that's, I think the number one thing, other than sometimes people overdo it and it's a little annoying, but the main issue is that you don't really have the time. They don't have the time to get to know you. So you don't really have the time to sell your credentials.

Laura Khalil (20:37):
People will always pay you according to the trust that you've earned with them. That's how it, yeah. People will always pay you according to the trust you've with them. So that's why we can sell cheap products through ads because it does. And that's why like many of you who have listened you might've seen these $27, $37 offers online. This has become like the new hot thing because it's relatively inexpensive. It solves a burning desire. And it's, you know, it's, it's an easy way to get your foot in the door. But if you're trying to sell a $50,000 or a hundred thousand dollar or multi-year retainer package with a client, it's not going to be that way. It's going to be because they know you, they like you, they trust you. They've seen your stuff online. It is super important to be branded online.

Laura Khalil (21:27):
It is super important to have podcasts like this to be creating content. And I also want to say something as we're talking about this, because sometimes people can get really annoyed or discouraged with podcasting or with content marketing, which is really my area of expertise. When we're doing content marketing for personal branding, please, everyone hear me on this? It can take two to three years for people to associate you with what you do. This is not the quick game. This is the long game. And you've got to say, do I love this is whatever I'm doing in my life with my career enough of a sustainable interest that I could do it for the next 10 years, because it's going to take a while for people to say, Oh yeah, that's, that's what she's up to. Or that's what he's up to. It just takes time and it takes years. So this is not, this isn't a quick, you know, I wish it could be like a quick thing where everyone knew who you were just takes a lot of time. Bernay Brown, who most people today know talking about shame. She was researching shame for 20 years before she got on, on a Ted talk stage. That's how long it took her to get up there. You know, it takes time. Are you in it for the long haul? Are you in it for a quick buck? They're kind of different things.

Ed Orozco (22:52):
Yeah. definitely stay clear from the transactional mindset. Because these are not things. First of all, if you don't, if you hate doing it, don't do it because you're not going to stick to it. Like it's, you're, you're just gonna suffer all the time and you're not to want to, you're going to dread the moment in which you have to sit down and record or write that article or post that video. So find the things that you enjoy doing and stick to those double-down on those. And then I like this quote from Nevada Robbie can, which it's something like be impatient with the actions and be patient with the results of that one. All right. So I want to talk a little bit about effective communication. I think effective is one of the most powerful tools in our designer or creative people arsenal. Can you tell us a little bit about how, but why do you, what do you consider effective communication and how can someone develop that sort of skill

Laura Khalil (24:00):
Effective communication is clear, unambiguous communication, where especially within the business world, we have a clear and shared upon understanding of the obligations, the expectations, and how to communicate with the client. A lot of most people are very scared of conflict are very scared and they just want the job so bad that they're like, yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. Whatever you want, we'll do it, please, please, please. You live and die by the statement of work and contract. You sign with your clients. It must be clear. What exactly are you going to be doing? This is going to help in a number of ways. First, it's going to help with scope creep. When a client comes to you and says, Oh, could you, let's just, I'll use this as a simple example. They've contracted you to do five graphics a month. Great. Okay.

Laura Khalil (25:06):
What happens when the client comes to you and says, Hey, could you do a few more? Well, if you don't have that clearly labeled and written out in the contract, what do you do? If there's more work, then people kind of feel like they're getting trampled on. They're getting used. They don't want to lose the client. Instead. We can always go back to the contract and say, no problem. I can do that. And we have a billing procedure for what happens when we go out of scope. So that that's all written in it's pre pre agreed to it's pre-signed we don't need to think about it. Or if we need to make an addendum to the contract, that's easy to do. It's not a big deal because it's not in there. We don't start arguing about scopes of work because the scopes of work are on clear, by the way, that is your responsibility as a business owner, to make that clear that it's not the client's responsibility that is on you to say, am I crystal clear on what is included in here?

Laura Khalil (26:01):
When something, what I like to do with my clients? I like a weekly check-in, especially when we're doing creative, make sure you're on their schedule. We look at creative. This is what I did with one of my clients. One of my really big clients. We looked at creative every single week. We presented new ideas. Every single week, we had a structure around that. Why do we have a structure? Because nobody wants a fire drill. And I am not interested in working with people who want to work in a fire drill environment. In fact, kind of, none of us want to work that way. So if we build in guardrails and we say, Oh, you have some requests, great. Let's talk about them at our morning meeting. No problem. We are building in guardrails to protect your time. Similarly also recommend don't work in fire drills.

Laura Khalil (26:53):
If someone, a client comes to you and says, Oh my God, I need this done right now. This is such an emergency. You may, as Goodwill say, okay, I'll give you this one. Then you say, but I want to refer back to the contract. I just want you to know we need a week or five business days to get stuff done. We're going to give you this one for free. If you can't, we're going to give you this one, okay, we'll do this for you once. But I just want you to know this is an exception. So that's what clear communication is. It's really clearly stating your boundaries. It's clearly stating how you work and this is on people get scared of this stuff. But to be honest with you, this is how you build great working relationships. This is how you build healthy communication is by being clear on what our expectations are. Most people get off when their expectations aren't met and they're not met because they're not communicated. So get clear.

Ed Orozco (27:53):
You just made me think of something that I think it's important to include in contracts, which is when can the client contact you? And, and how these has to be specified in a contract. If you're going to share your personal phone number with your client so that they can text you at three in the morning, on a Sunday to get something done for like 7:00 AM. That should be in the contract. And you, you need to leave it very clear that you do not work over weekends. You did not work after six or 7:00 PM. Or maybe you do whatever, whatever, whatever you to rescind the contract. Yeah. Make it work for you and make it very clear any, and the first time that clients sort of like tries to like circumvent those terms, make it very clear that that's not how you roll.

Ed Orozco (28:44):
And they're actually going to respect you for that. Instead of getting mad at you, they're gonna get mad at you when they don't, when you give them something that they were not expecting. But if everything is laid out very clearly, they're actually gonna, you're actually going to build more trust because they're going to be like, Oh, you know this guy or this girl, they know what they're doing. They're very clear. They're very professional. I'm good. And you increase the trust, which is vital when you're working with any source of any sort of client.

Laura Khalil (29:16):
Totally actually. And let me tell you something. Here's how I have been, obviously working since 2013 for myself. So eight years, I have not had a lousy client in eight years. And I'm going to tell you one way that we avoid nightmare clients. You can see them coming from a mile away. Tell me, you know, this, you can see them. They are already a nightmare before you sign the contract. And I have had people in this happened to me recently. I had a potential client, a lot of money contacting me at 10:00 PM, wanting to talk for hours, wanting to meet constantly in person before we had a signed contract, all kinds of stuff. That for me is a major, major, major red flag. And I had to say, I'm sorry, I'm booked up. I can't take this work because I will not work with people like that. That's how you avoid nightmares. You, you can often identify, listen to your intuition when you get that sense of, Ooh, gosh, is this going to be okay? It's not going to be okay. They're going to be worse. Cause then you've got, they've got you on the hook with money, right? It's just a nightmare. Just don't do it. Something better will come.

Ed Orozco (30:36):
There's a lot of things to unpack from what you just said. The first is the terms. So make sure you have very clear terms. This is the type of client I work with and have a criteria. It doesn't have to be public, but have a trade area of what you can see there, a bad client. I actually have a free template on my website. And I constantly updated with things that I hear. I recommend that you have your own based on your own experience, what are the things that you do not tolerate? And that are really that really puts you off how the list of that. And every single client run them through the list at ease. They hit of the, if they take three, four, five boxes, that's a warning. You don't work with them because you're going to regret it.

Ed Orozco (31:24):
The other thing is sometimes those clients pay a lot and pay on time. So it becomes a problem of like golden handcuffs. When they're trained, they're trained, you're per poorly. They're totally ignoring your terms on your contract. They're overworking you, but they're paying you so you don't want to leave them. That's a terrible situation to be in and you have to make sure you're in a position to say no, and to walk away, otherwise they're going to keep exploiting you. And just because they have the money, they think they can control you. And they think that they can dictate all the terms. That's another thing you mentioned. And the last thing I just want to mention, and then we can move on is don't operate from from fear and from a position of hunger, like be prepared to walk away if you have to, because otherwise you're gonna regret it. Like, yeah, you might want win the contract and you might get the money, but you're going to have a terrible experience. The client is going to hate you. You're going to hate declined. And that's going to generate work that you're not going to be able to put on your portfolio. So it's a lose, lose.

Laura Khalil (32:32):
It never, it rarely works. And I do empathize with people who say, I need to eat next month. And you know, sometimes you just, I get it. But how does it, and to your point at, I love that you have a checklist about this because one of the things I always say is how, when you, when I have an initial call with someone and we're just getting to know one another, the first question I ask myself, after I get off the phone is did I feel energized by them or drained by them? I want to work with people who energize me, who excite me. And I know what that is for me. That's different for everyone. So if they drain me, if I feel exhausted, I'm not going to work with them for me. It's that simple. If they energize me, if I feel like, Oh my God, I'm so excited by what they're doing, then it's a really good sign.

Ed Orozco (33:17):
Yeah. they usually tend to be very pushy, like the bad ones. They want you to start working before signing. They want you to start doing stuff before paying you they start asking for stuff. It's like, okay, I'm going to start for the next two weeks. Oh, you have to start tomorrow because we have this huge deadline. So flash news, it's never that urgent, like 90% of the time, it's. Like it's, they don't have that terrible deadline and deadlines. You can move them. And how do, how do you know? Because once you start the project date, keep stretching the project and adding more scope and making you the more stuff. So they didn't really have that very important deadline. All right. I think we we already left that pretty clear. So let's talk about a little bit of verbal self-defense. I love this concept. How, how can you like use language to portray yourself as a confident person and avoid, you know, abusive people, whether that's your boss, your client or whoever.

Laura Khalil (34:28):
So I think it's really important to say that we are all going to be in situations. And we have all been in situations where someone has said something really inappropriate or mean or rude. And we have not known how to respond. And typically what happens in those moments is we can feel like hot Tingley. Our heart is racing. We're starting to sweat. We just want to get out of the room. This is where verbal self-defense comes in because what's happening. When we feel really offended by someone and it's shocking to us, is it triggers that fight or flight response. And when you trigger the fight or flight response, you can't think clearly, and you can't respond. The problem with all of that is that when we don't respond to things that we find offensive, let's say you're in a client meeting and the client says, this is garbage.

Laura Khalil (35:21):
And you're just like, Whoa. Like, I don't even know what to say to that when we don't respond, it tells them that they're right. It tells them, you can say that and you can up it the next time. And you can usually ruder to me the next time, because I'm not pushing back. Okay. So instead of just taking it, here's the one thing I want you to do. Ask a question about what they just said. You don't need to, even, what do you, here's some questions. Someone says, this is trash and you're like, what? You respond and you say, what do you mean by that? Tell me more. I'm sorry, what did you say? I'm sorry, trash. You're just going to ask and just it doesn't. It can be, what do you mean? What did you just say? You're going to just ask the question back.

Laura Khalil (36:20):
What we're doing at that point is we're taking their language and we're putting it back on them. We're not justifying it with a response because there is no response to things that are, agregious rude. It's saying you think about what you said, or you elaborate on what you just said, and you helped me understand, and that buys you time to calm down, or it buys you time to say, excuse me, I need to take a 20 minute break. And actually, you know, let's regroup in a few minutes. So that is what we do in verbal self-defense now sometimes. So sometimes clients will say that, you know, like I've worked with a lot of clients who will look at creative and they'll be very Frank with me because often I'm the buffer between the creative and the client. Right? So they can sort of be a little bit more honest with me. But if you feel like you're in a scenario like that, where the client says, well, I just don't like this at all. Or this just, this like is really not good.

Laura Khalil (37:22):
You have to separate yourself and your worth as an individual on this planet from somebody not liking something, you do. Okay. Those are two separate things. So, you know, at UNR talking, I've got pink hair. Guess what? A lot of people don't like pink hair. Do I care? No. Why? Because this is about me. It's not about them. Right? So when we have creative and people don't like it, do I care? I care because they're the client, but it doesn't affect me personally. I say, great. I, my job here is to remove my ego from the situation and to provide you with the best quality graphic we can provide based on your feedback at that. So that's separate. We're not, that's not about me. It's not about the designer being crappy. It's about what don't you like, tell me more. You have to get curious and those points remove your ego, remove your feelings. It has nothing to do with you. And that's where I think a lot of designers, frankly it's re it can be very hard to hear some of that stuff, but it's really important that you learn to get curious when the client says something like that, because we need to understand how to please them, because sometimes it's just like a small tweak. Sometimes, you know, it's just, we want you to move things around or try this or that. And it's not about you, you know?

Ed Orozco (38:55):
Yeah. It's taste is very subjective is probably the most objective thing ever and otherwise there wouldn't be, you know, different choices for the same product in the supermarket. Cars would come all in this, in, in a single color. Whatever, like how many, how many Jordans exist? How many, you know, total it tastes is the most subjective thing ever. So if a client doesn't like something, it's, don't take it personally, try to ask more clarifying questions and that's going to force them to articulate what probably was an emotional response. And then they're going to give you more quality feedback. So

Laura Khalil (39:41):
Clients can have, and I know designers love to joke about this. Clients will say things like, well, I just don't like it. Can you just like, and you're like, well, what, what don't you like? What are you talking about? And a lot of times clients, especially who are not designers can give this very ambiguous feedback. So one of the things I will set to my clients and say, well, I just, I don't like the style of this. I'd say, show me something you do. Like, give me a sense for things like show me other ads, show me even interiors, show me I cons show me things that like, you really love because I can't read your mind and we can then create sort of like a little board of like, this is the style the client's looking for. Hopefully it's, I, you know, identified and unified with their brand and then we can work off of that.

Laura Khalil (40:32):
But sometimes they show me what you do. Like, because that can sometimes be a lot easier for them. And that's not to suggest that we copy things or that we, you know, do copycat stuff. In fact, I'll tell you a really funny story if I may. So we were, we were doing, I was doing working, doing creative direction for one of my clients being intimate intermediary between the designer. And we would come up, I would come up with concepts. And anyway, so we come up with one of these concepts and we were doing a lot of jokes for social media and we would have a graphic associated. I cannot remember what the joke was, but we put it out there with this graphic a couple months go by. And we see that one of the biggest software manufacturers in the world who I will not name had literally copied the graphic and the, and put it on their social. And they had copied that they had actually caught our logo out of it. I mean, it was like, are you kidding me right now? What are you doing? And so sometimes imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but that's not what I'm talking about. Okay. Don't verbatim. Copy. Just use it as design inspiration.

Ed Orozco (41:56):
Yeah. That's plagiarism and that's, and that's not cool. Don't do that. I wanted to mention something quickly there as well is not the, it's not the client's job to know how to talk about this site because they hire you. If they knew the sign, they wouldn't hire you. So you need to learn your lines. You need to know how to describe something with the actual specific terms so that you can help the client articulate what they're feeling, our support, you know, instead of giving you things like, Oh, I just, you know, it's, I just don't feel it. It's not like

Laura Khalil (42:39):
Ed is dropping truth bombs. Yes, no, but that's, I mean, but this is really the difference between being a Fiverr kind of hired gun and being, seeing yourself as a design consultant, you really assume that role of I'm a professional. I know how to communicate. I realize I'm here to help the client achieve their goals and dreams, and I'm going to be paid really handsomely for doing it. But part of it is assuming some responsibility in helping the client get to the end goal.

Ed Orozco (43:10):
Absolutely. So in that line, when you said, this is how you differentiate yourself from the fibers, and we're really destroying fiber today, but sorry, but not sorry. How did you go? How did you separate yourself from, from that type of market so that you can charge more? Like, what are the facts?

Laura Khalil (43:33):
I didn't even, I didn't even consider fiber. I didn't even think that was serious. Like, I, I just, that wasn't even on my radar. So like, if that's on your radar, your radar is not wide enough. It's like, you got to really expand your way of thinking. So one of the things that I recommend, there's a couple of things. First of all, let me, let me try to use this analogy of, you need to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you and who have done what you want to do the most important thing for any person. And if you're an entrepreneur, great, if you're not an entrepreneur, doesn't matter. Any person who wants to achieve anything in life is to meet someone who has done something similar to what you want to do and have them mentor you, take their programs, take their courses, work one-on-one with them, whatever it is because right when we start consulting, I want you to imagine you are at the ground floor of a building you're in the lobby.

Laura Khalil (44:43):
And what do you see if you're in the lobby where you look around and you kind of, you know, you see the sidewalk outside, you see the entry way to another building. You see a bunch of people walking around, what people who are smarter than you are going to do is they're going to show you how to get into the elevator. They're going to show you how to rise. And when you rise in a high-rise building, what happens? Your vision expands, and you see something completely different from when you're on the ground floor. You're not looking at people walking down the street, scurrying around the cars everywhere you're actually seeing for, you know, miles or kilometers out in front of you. You're seeing the sky. You're seeing how much is out there for you. So find people who are smarter than you, who have done what you want to do.

Laura Khalil (45:31):
If you are surrounding yourself with people who are on fiber, cause like all you and your buddies are on fiber. Go find someone who ha who isn't doing that. Go find someone who's working with big clients, or who's doing whatever it is you want to do. And start learning from them. There is so much free content right now on the internet or so much easy way to get started without, without immediately plunking down a lot of money. Remember we said, you pay people in proportion to the, how much you trust them. So learn about new people, go get their content. If it resonates with you, you'll build trust. You know, that's known better, but that's really what you need to do. I never, I don't, I've never considered, I'm competing with people on Fiverr. Like that's not even like you. I mean, to me, that's like crazy. Like why would I compete? That's we're not even solving the same problems.

Ed Orozco (46:25):
Yeah. Stop walking, like staring at the floor and start walking, looking up, compare yourself to a different type of market. Do you have any tips on fi on charging more first of all, and like, what are the things? Cause I feel like sometimes how much you charge is also sort of like a limiting belief thinking it's also like a self-confidence thing, but it also sometimes depends on the market. You're in how wealthy your clients are and how important is the problem that you're solving, right?

Laura Khalil (47:03):
Yes, absolutely. Those, those are all factors in what you charge. You're not going to charge an individual the same thing as you're going to charge a fortune 100 company, period. You're just like, it's, it's just very, very different. So you have to one recognize those things. I will give you a little fun, little test that anyone can take in use. If you start giving your prices to people and nobody second guesses them and just pays them. You're undercharging. It's that simple. If people start questioning and saying, Hey, can you help me understand this? Then we're on the right track. Okay. We want people, we want to hear, like, they want to understand the value in this and yeah, they'll probably pay for it. But if you're never getting that pushback, you're not charging enough. I'll tell you a funny story. So when I first started consulting, I had no idea what to charge.

Laura Khalil (48:04):
I knew I only wanted to work with big companies. And so I got on a call to do a content strategy for really big company. And they said at the end, what would you charge for this? Of course, that's every, consultant's worst nightmare, right? Because they're like, well, what do you want to pay for it? And so I thinking, Oh, well, I'm going to give them a big number. I threw out the number of $15,000. I thought that was a lot of money. And I'll never forget this guy said to me, I'm sorry, can you repeat that? I said, Oh yeah, $15,000. And he said, Oh, he said, Oh, okay. I thought you said, you didn't say 50. That's what everyone else has been quoting us. Oh my God. Now of course I got the contract because I was so cheap. You know, like they were like, how can we not work with her?

Laura Khalil (49:00):
But I learned a lot from that. And I learned a lot about doing your research, understanding, you know, how to charge clients that are of that size. Also keep in mind what ad ad agencies are actually charging ad agencies are charging an arm and a leg for a lot of very junior people, or sometimes not many junior people to work on a very big account. And I learned that working in sub contracting with them and it shocked me now, I'm not saying you need to charge what they charged. And frankly, one of the reasons that the traditional ad agency is going away is because there's a lot of bloat in their pricing. However, you can probably charge more.

Ed Orozco (49:52):
Yeah. that's just so true. Like the traditional agency, whether that's at agency marketing agency, whatever agency has an army of stuff that they put in your bill does not contribute to the value that you're getting. They go ahead.

Laura Khalil (50:14):
Sorry, ed. I didn't mean to interrupt you. Should I continue please? Okay. So like, you know, anyone who's worked in a traditional agency and I'm going to just dump all over agencies, but anyone who's worked in traditional agency, this is how it works. It's a bunch of 20 somethings. A new client comes in. Everyone goes into the meeting room, we're all there. And of course it's a great presentation. It's very slick. They've done a lot of work on it. Certainly when it comes to working the account, it is not that army of people who are working on it. It's usually someone who's very young who is super overworked. Those environments are really the burn and churn type of work environments, where they just, you know, spit you out and get another one coming in and they're charging an arm and a leg for you, right. Or for maybe a couple of you or three of you. And it is it's ridiculous, frankly. And it's in my opinion, completely unethical. And I think that's why they're going the way of the Dodo bird. But there's a huge opportunity for all of us to be paid fairly and handsomely for doing a really good job at what we do.

Ed Orozco (51:28):
Yeah. The markup, these people put on on sometimes interns, they hire interns and they just tell them what to do. And then they charge astronomical amounts of money for it that just go to their pockets or, you know, the ping pong machine or the barista, or, you know, double huge office.

Laura Khalil (51:49):
The owner agency like executives are making a half million millions a year. Okay. And I'm not saying they shouldn't be paid well, but their employees are not the people who are doing the work are not being paid like that. They are not. And that's where a lot of that money is going. And so, you know, you're, do you want to pay, do you want to work to make someone else richer, but you want to work to make yourself richer.

Ed Orozco (52:14):
There you go. All right. So you have also I know that you have worked for, for a while. I don't know if this is still the case. You've been doing executive coaching or you've done executive coaching. Can you share a little bit of your experience doing that?

Laura Khalil (52:33):
Yeah, sure. Part of my executive coaching work is really around working around these mindset issues of what actually holds people back. And we've sort of touched upon a lot of that today. A lot of what is holding you back is you that's it, you know, a lot of people, why don't they charge enough because they internally don't believe they're worth it, or because their mind has not been opened to the possibilities of what they can charge. So with coaching, what we're typically looking at doing is helping to build in three key areas, your confidence, your clarity of where you're going and your courage to go do it and giving you the roadmap to actually get it done.

Ed Orozco (53:16):
That's free. Awesome. Yeah. Yeah, so, okay. So we're at 50 something minutes, I would like to take a little bit of time to talk about the many other ventures and endeavors. You're in both ways you are also doing a podcast consultant. Can you talk about that? Yeah.

Laura Khalil (53:43):
So, you know, this is, this is a funny story and this is really about how we can reinvent ourselves. So I started my marketing consultancy in 2013, by 2018 late 2018. I started getting into doing more executive coaching and speaking, which was really something I was very passionate about with speaking and helping individuals rise. And at the start of 2020, I said, you know what, in order to help build this speaking arm of my business, I'm going to build and create a podcast. Now I've been doing content marketing for almost 20 years. So I know a thing or two about great storytelling. I knew enough about podcast production through some other things that I'd done. And I said, all right, I'm going to go do it well within two months of doing, putting this thing out, we hit one 12 in Apple podcasts career section.

Laura Khalil (54:39):
The podcast is taking off without a huge list without paid ads and without spamming my friends endlessly and I'm, and then as the podcast is taking off, what else is happening? So this is about like beginning of March, 2020. Well, my entire career in public speaking has imploded because COVID has hit, we're locked down. I'm not doing any more speaking. And I'm like, Oh G like what the heck is going on? And for a lot of us, we have been who, you know, have survived the last year in business. It is extremely and has been extremely tough. And I feel for you, if you have gone through these shifts is a very tough. And so my speaking career is kind of on hold and I'm doing the show and the show is going really well. And then the show starts building me up more revenue in different ways, through other speaking engagements that I start doing.

Laura Khalil (55:36):
And through other consulting that I start doing, and I'm like, wait a minute, wait a minute. I thought that you had to have millions of downloads and, you know, a thousand Patrion friends and all of this stuff to make money with podcasting. And I'm starting to make money with podcasting. And I don't have any of that. And I started speaking about this and people said, well, Laura, can you teach me how you've done this, how you've built additional revenue for your business and how you've actually built this podcast in, you know, the pandemic next a hundred years pandemic. And I said, sure, I can. And so that is the pivot I had to make. So I took my experience and, you know, years of experience in content marketing, working for those brands, like Intel, GE and so on and so forth. I took my experience now in podcast production. And I took my storytelling and marketing experience and I just put them all together and now I consult for other people doing that. So that's the story yet?

Ed Orozco (56:44):
Connecting the dots. Yeah.

Laura Khalil (56:46):
And it's, it's not what I thought I'd be doing in 2021, but boy, do I love it? It really lights me up. So

Ed Orozco (56:54):
That's awesome. I mean, I can definitely tell that you enjoy doing podcasting and speaking. You're very easy to talk to which is really awesome. And on top of that, you have the experience to share. So I think this is going to be a very helpful episode for, for everyone. So I want to take two, thank you one more time for agreeing to come in on the podcast for sharing your experience with the big clients and the bad guys and how to defend yourself, I think has been pretty awesome. If people want to connect with you, what's the best way for them to do so.

Laura Khalil (57:32):
So if you'd like to go listen to my own show, it's called brave by design. You can find that wherever you go, listen to podcasts, and you can also find me on LinkedIn and we'll put my name in the show notes. I'm sure you can, or it's probably in the description to this episode. You can go find me on LinkedIn. And if you're interested in growing your own podcast and building revenue for your business podcast, visit podcast, a brand, and you can learn more about working with me.

Ed Orozco (58:04):
All right. I'll make sure to add those three links in the show notes, Laura, thank you again for coming on the podcast. It's been a pleasure and I'll see you around. Thank you so much for having me. All right. Bye everyone.

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