Establishing & Retaining Real Relationships

Welcome to the Rialto Marketing podcast. Today's episode is a revenue acceleration series interview where we talk to seven figure B2B professional service firm owners that are actively trying to grow their business and get to the next level. We talk about the good, the bad and the ugly so that you can learn from their experience.


Join Tim Fitzpatrick and Dan Hughes for this week’s episode of The Rialto Marketing Podcast!

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Establishing & Retaining Real Relationships

Tim Fitzpatrick
Welcome to the Rialto Marketing podcast. Today's episode is a revenue acceleration series interview where we talk to seven figure B2B professional service firm owners that are actively trying to grow their business and get to the next level. We talk about the good, the bad and the ugly so that you can learn from their experience. Hi, I am Tim Fitzpatrick with Rialto Marketing, where we believe you must remove your revenue roadblocks to accelerate growth and marketing shouldn't be difficult. Thank you so much for taking the time to tune in. I'm really excited to have Dan Hughes from Wittij Consulting with me today. Dan, welcome and thanks for being here.

Dan Hughes
Thanks for having me, Tim. Appreciate it.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yes, I am excited to dig into this with you. Before we do that, I want to ask you some rapid fire questions if you're ready to jump in with both feet.

Dan Hughes
I'm ready.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Okay. So very quickly, what do you do and how long have you been doing it?

Dan Hughes
I own a company that does information technology, strategy, and architecture. It basically helps large, complex organizations get their computer systems and applications to bring them better value, help them do more business, or save more money. I've been doing it for 20 years, although launched Wittij about six years ago. I've been doing it for myself for six years. Prior to that, that's what I did for my career.

Tim Fitzpatrick
What's the most important lesson you've learned in running your business?

Dan Hughes
I'm very big on just raw, transparent honesty in all my dealings. I think it's probably the most... For me, it reduces stress a ton to have that be the way you approach things. I think it's been a real contributor to the success of my business.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Do you find that with just raw, transparent honesty that you attract clients that also appreciate that as well?

Dan Hughes
A hundred %, right. It helps you find people that approach things the same way you do. And you like working and interacting with them. Absolutely. And employees as well. It's how I find. It's the same that.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Direction also. I love that because I could see some people don't want to hear the raw, transparent truth.

Dan Hughes
I didn't say, Tim, I didn't say rude, transparent honesty.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yes. It's just transparent honesty. So growing a business is hard. Half your business was prior to the pandemic, and then half you were in the pandemic. When you've hit those roadblocks, those tough times, do you have any mantra or saying that you say to yourself or you share with your team to help push through those times?

Dan Hughes
I think I'll lead with the fact that I'm annoyingly positive. I don't hit a lot of ruts, but I do think when I do, my reminder to myself is always this seems overwhelmingly important right now. But I don't know, in five years, as I get older, it's probably sooner. I'm going to remember what was happening today. It feels important and problematic right now. Five years down the line, I'm not even going to remember what it was, let alone it had been that important to worry about, I guess, and to be bummed out about it.

Specializing is Key to Differentiation

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah, I like that. Annoyingly positive. What sets Wittij apart from your competitors?

Dan Hughes
I think it's a couple of things. One of them is we specialize in a space where not a lot of companies specialize. So a lot of IT services companies, architecture is a piece of what they do. And oftentimes it's to lead to more work. They do the architectures, they can provide the development services, or they can sell something associated with it. We focus specifically and only on that architecture, so the design aspect of what you're doing with your systems and your computers. And so since it's the only thing we do, we're able to really specialize on at it, get very good at it, lots of repetitive processes. And so I think that helps us because it's the only thing we do. It hurts us in that sometimes we don't get some of the business a competitor might because someone's looking for a wider offer. But for us, I think it's a competitive advantage.

Tim Fitzpatrick
It's interesting you say that because I guess one way to look at it is, yeah, we lost that business because we don't have a wide breadth, but I'm also guessing that there's projects you get because you specialize. My guess is you win a lot more projects than you lose because you're a specialist.

Dan Hughes
I think that's right. Part of it is, honestly, it's a little bit of my obsession what we do. I love what we do. Part of it of focusing on it is it's what I enjoy doing. I think we've carved out a space doing. I agree. I didn't at all mean I wish we did something different. I like that it's just our core specialty.

Tim Fitzpatrick
When you specialize and go narrow, that's one of the things that's going to happen. I think more people choose not to do that because they're afraid they're going to lose business. When in reality, I think when you focus and you specialize, you win a lot more business because of that. The IT cyber managed service provider space, this is not just an issue in the IT space, but there are so many IT providers that just look the same. There's no differentiation. I use this all the time. Hey, pull up your nearest five competitor websites and pull the logos off. They all say the same variation of the same thing. When that happens, you're not different, you're seen as the same and you are always going to compete on price. One of the ways to differentiate is to specialize, which you have done. You've gone super narrow. You can specialize in the service. You can specialize in the market, the problem you solve. There's so many different ways to really niche, but in any form you do it, it's going to help differentiate you and make you an obvious choice for the ideal clients that you intend to work with.

Dan Hughes
We specialize on the service to the point you just made. We specialize on the service, but we not the industry. We target a wide range of industries. It's easier, of course, to sell into an industry where we have prior experience, but oftentimes we can stretch into a new industry based on that core offer we have. I also think it helps with hiring because you become very good at knowing what works well for your company. I can, in a short conversation, figure out, hey, is someone a potential match or not? Because I know exactly what I'm looking for and it's because we do a specialty thing.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Well, it's interesting that you bring that up too, Dan, because from a marketing standpoint, we always talk about the narrower your service offering, the narrower the problem you solve, the wider the market you can serve. The wider the service and the problem, the narrower you really need to go with the offering. Now, even with you with a super narrow offering, you could still go narrow with the market if you wanted to, but you can get away with a little bit more because you're so narrow in your offering. Thank you for bringing that up because a lot of people ask that, Gosh, how narrow do I need to go? Well, depends on how narrow the problem is.

Dan Hughes
I wish I could say it was some Machiavellian strategy. It's just where I ended up. I'm very happy with it, but it wasn't necessarily thoughtfully planned.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Well, you have experience there. You're good at it. You enjoy it, and there's a demand for it. Do you find that... Do other IT consultants and MSPs bring you into projects because you're so narrow, or does that not happen as much?

Dan Hughes
Sometimes not as often. It oftentimes because they will have an arm that offers that service as well, and so they'll use their own arm. And then I think the other part of that is we are, on purpose, very neutral about recommendations and affiliations because we want to always give a customer a completely neutral... We're Switzerland, we make the best recommendation for the client. We have no skin in the game of getting any benefit to us if we make a certain recommendation.

Establishing and Retaining Real Relationships

Tim Fitzpatrick
Got it. When we spoke in the pre interview, you had touched on the fact that your business is very relationship based. How do you go about establishing and just maintaining, retaining those real relationships? Do you have a process for that?

Dan Hughes
Not really. I would say not really, and this is going to sound awful because I should, but part of me feels like if I have too much of a process, is it a real relationship anymore? Am I working the relationship? I have your standard processes. I have a CRM where I track who the people are that I'm keeping in touch with. But I think my process, for the most part, is I enjoy relationships with people. And I think if there's any element of my process, it's that I never sell because all the people I'm talking to, I just make sure people know what I do. And then I build the relationship. And then if it's going to happen, it's going to happen. If they want to use my services, they know I do it. I don't need to remind them I do it. So then I have a relationship. And let's say in one case, I don't get any business, but I end up with a good relationship with somebody, and I enjoy that aspect of just knowing people. In many cases, it turns into I can help them, they can help me. There's a business opportunity there as well.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Do you give relationships a certain period of time to see where they go and then make a decision as to where that relationship should go. Do you ever think about that as part of your process?

Dan Hughes
I think it may be just organically in that we talked about that honesty and how it works for you, find other people who think and are, I guess, looking for the same thing you are in a relationship. And I think that organically, you click with some people and you don't click with others. I would say, so you click with some businesses, you don't click with others. And I don't have a formal, okay, I'm done here. But it just happens that I end up paying more attention to relationships that seem to be working and less to ones that aren't.

Tim Fitzpatrick
And through your CRM, your CRM is ensuring that you're keeping in touch with people on a semi regular basis.

Dan Hughes
That I'm not accidentally because I'm so busy forgetting that I have to talk to someone in a while.

Tim Fitzpatrick
In building relationships, are you focused a lot on the business side of it, or do you take the time to learn more about them personally?

Dan Hughes
Yeah, I think so. As I said, I like personal relationships, and so I don't focus a lot on the business side. I focus on getting to know somebody and learning about them. The people I'm clicking with also want to get to know me and learn about me. Then as I said, the level of the business is maybe so that they know I have a business and what we do. If someone's interested in asks more, we talk more about it.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. you know what? There's a couple of things coming to mind here as we dig into this. First is, when you take the time to learn more about them personally, my assumption, and tell me if I'm on the right track here is that when it's time to follow up and check in with them, it's a whole lot easier to check in with them and figure out, Gosh, what the hell am I going to say? Well, gee, I know that they have whatever, they have two kids and their kids are both playing soccer. You're not looking for things to check in about. Do you find that to be the case?

Dan Hughes
Absolutely. In fact, I don't like that awkward relationship. I don't like where you're like, Oh, what am I going to say? How am I going to... I actually do think earlier in my career, I can even pick out a couple that make me cringe when I think about them now. But I was in more of a, Oh, I'm going to sell role. And I'd go and do a meeting. And instead of having a conversation, I'd have my deck that I was going to take them through. And, Okay, now we've got to go through my deck. And I left one thinking, That was awful because they just wanted to talk. And I insisted on taking them through this, my vision of what I wanted to tell them. And I think about it now, and it still makes me uncomfortable, that particular conversation. So absolutely, if you have these, I call them a real relationship with somebody, you're just catching up on whatever because you're enjoying the engagement, the conversation with somebody. One important thing I think is I'm not in a business yet anyway, where I'm having to cold call leads. My business is through networks or relationships that extend to other relationships or introductions that are made. So I know that colors some of what I'm saying, but I think it ends up being these just real conversations about that.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. you know, it's like how you talk about real relationships. I just interviewed April Brumm a few weeks ago about creating genuine connection. She was touching on a lot of these things that you're touching on, just taking the time to get to know people so that you can actually just follow up and reconnect with them in ways outside of just business. And actually show them that you listen. That's what I think helps create that connection is, Gosh, Dan listened when I was talking last time, and he remembered that I told him about that. That shows that you care. It shows that you're interested, and that helps build those relationships. I love that because, look, I'll be honest, that is not a strong suit of mine. I'm working on it, but I default so much to the business side of it. I need to do a better job of the personal side of it. And you and April are reminding me of that. So thank you for that.

Dan Hughes
I think for me, a lot of it is whether timing is a huge factor in when someone could use my business's support. Either there's a problem they're facing that they need help for it, or some large new thing is being invested in and they want to make sure it's done right. So it doesn't even help to pitch, pitch, pitch. It's just if I have relationships with somebody and they know I'm here if they need us, and then the right opportunity comes where, Oh, wait a minute, I need help. Oh, you know what? I know somebody who does this or can help with this. I think that's a better approach, I guess, for me than trying to pitch people on why they haven't realized they need me yet.

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The Benefits of Creating Content Consistently

Tim Fitzpatrick
Right. Yeah. Well, one of the things that you are pretty darn consistent about with your marketing is sharing content on LinkedIn, which a lot of people struggle with. I know this is a lot of work because I do it as well. Do you have a process that you use to share your content on LinkedIn? How are you consistent with it?

Dan Hughes
Well, first, lest I come off like I'm trying to be a hero, you caught me at a good time. There are certainly times where I have not been as consistent, even though I've wanted to be. I would say it's a lot of work, and I've tried a lot. And come back to, I really need to create my own content, is where I ended up landing to get the tone right I want on it. And so what I do is a couple of things. I try to get a chunkier article of some sort out once or twice a month, which is me just writing about things that I'm passionate about. But that then gives me a lot of sound bites or blurbs that I could extract out for a conversation for a shorter post. I also have a lot of mini automations in place where I can capture... As I age, I remember things less. So when inspiration strikes, I have to make sure I capture it somewhere. So if I'm at a keyboard, boom, I add it to my list of, oh, this is something I can post about at some point. Or if I'm in the car, I do a voice to text, whatever it is, just to create this backlog of things that I have an opinion about. And then what I do is usually on a Sunday, I'll schedule out a couple of posts during the week for using all those sources in order to come up with what are some perspectives I can share that might be useful. And then that's it. I schedule them out on a day. I say Sunday, sometimes it's not always Sunday. But then I do pay attention to LinkedIn and then read stuff I'm interested in and maybe comment on something or respond to comments on my articles or that during the week. But I think the combination of creating a content bucket of some sort where I track here's the things I can talk about. And then a little bit of the scheduling helps me because during the week, it sometimes gets so busy that if I did it live each day, it would probably be hard to pull off.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. You highlighted a couple of things here that I want to pull out because I use some of the same tools to be consistent on social. First thing you said is you write a larger article, and this could be a larger article. It could be a longer video. The form of content really doesn't matter so much, but you're taking a larger piece of content, putting that out there, but then you're leveraging that piece of content to create other smaller, shorter, more concise pieces of content, which is a great way to leverage your time. I do the same thing. I love video, so I use video.

Dan Hughes
I think I'd... I want to try. Videos on my list of would like to try it at some point. It's just been, I think for me, mostly finding the time to tackle that. I feel like I can bang off with a little less effort text, but I do like... I think the video format is intriguing.

Tim Fitzpatrick
If you have the right support, I think it can be faster for you as the person shooting the video. But it does take a lot of my shorter videos, we put captions and there's some... It's not in depth video editing, but there is some video editing that needs to be done on the back end. But that can be done by a virtual assistant on a part time basis. It's not complicated. You just have to have a process in place for it.

Dan Hughes
I guess what I do like about that, Tim, is I can outsource the part that I'm comfortable with someone else doing. I worry about my content, and that is interesting to me because that means I could do the part that I want to make sure is my voice, but then get someone else to help with some of the production aspects of it.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Do what's the highest and best use of your time and then get the rest off your plate. The other thing that you touched on... God, I just lost my train of thought.

Dan Hughes
That's okay. I already lost one train of thought.

Tim Fitzpatrick
While you were talking. That's what it was. Sorry. You talked about making notes about topic and content ideas as you had them. So many people have this roadblock of, Gosh, what am I going to talk about or write about? And the reality is, once you get into this, there's no shortage of information out there. I do the exact same thing because we get inspired with pieces of types of content all day. The problem is a lot of us don't have a place to actually put that. So for you, you've got your collection bins. I've got note taking software. I put it in there. If I'm in the car, I've just got a voice recorder app and I'll just say it in there and then I'll get back to it later. But the bottom line is we both have places where we can catalog that information and come back to it when we're at a point where we're going to create content. And if you do that, you will never have a shortage of things to talk about.

Dan Hughes
I do think that. That was actually big when I started doing that. Definitely a huge help for me. Instead of staring at the screen saying, What am I going to write about? What am I going to write about? What am I going to write about?

Tim Fitzpatrick
As you can see, I just lost my train of thought of what I was going to bring up in the last two minutes. If I don't write this stuff down or get it down somewhere, I'm going to forget, but we come across this stuff every day. I think the other thing, too, is when you get in the habit of creating content and you're always looking for content ideas, we hear the story about our reticular activating system, like I buy a whatever I buy a Mercedes, and now all of a sudden I see Mercedes everywhere I go. Yes, because my particular activating system is aware of it and looking for it. Same thing with our content. Honestly, it really does become easier because we're always just naturally looking for content ideas.

Dan Hughes
I think that's right.

Creating an Industry Standard Process to Differentiate

Tim Fitzpatrick
I want to switch gears a little bit. You guys have a solution architecture process that was recognized as an industry standard. Can you tell me more about just how this unfolds? A lot of people are probably like, Jeez, how does that happen? Because I think that's a fantastic feather in your cap. How did this unfold? How were you able to get recognized in that way?

Dan Hughes
I mentioned, I'm passionate and, let's say, obsessive about architects, about solution architects, not just about how we do it and approach for it. And so it started as I hired people, wanting us as a company to deliver consistently because I do think that's part of success is consistency. When someone comes to me and they say, Hey, it's usually, can we get another Jeff? In other words, they want more of what we're already helping them with. Part of that is hiring great people. Part of it is giving people a playbook. It started with me very carefully documenting what's our process around architecture. And this is, as I've been doing in a very long time, it's building these expert playbooks. And then we were fortunate in that the Open Group is this large standards organization in the space we operate, and they have a process for ratifying and approving a solution architecture process, or an architecture process, not even specific solution architecture. And it's for the purpose of they run their own certification program. And to certify, you have to submit projects done under a formal and official architecture process. So then at that point, it was an enormous amount of work because there's a lot of requirements to submit and prove that you have a sound process, that it's in use, that there's ongoing updates to it. There's a whole a large list. But it basically invested the time and the money to take our material over the finish line to where it was fully formalized, and then we submitted it. And honestly, it was very funny because at that point it was so much work to get it there. It was almost a little anti climactic to have it be approved. It was like approved. It was like, that's it. I get an email. It was that thing. But part of what was great about it is it did force us to complete the job. We had a lot of formality around a lot of how we were doing our work, but to submit it for that review and approval makes you really pay attention to, are there any holes in this? Does it sound? Does the logic all fit?

Tim Fitzpatrick
Now that that's been done, are you using that and leveraging that in your marketing and your sales efforts?

Dan Hughes
Like any question you were asking about our marketing sales, I would say yes, but probably not enough. I mean, we're probably not optimizing it, but definitely the fact that it helps add credence and helps people buy that we're legit, I guess. That we're not a we have a legitimate story to tell that's been recognized and approved. And so, yes, I do definitely use that in our marketing. And some of our marketing, I don't know what the right term for this is, because we're so relationship based, some of the marketing is almost back end marketing where it starts with the relationship. But then I want when someone peels back the layers of the onion, they're even more and more impressed with what they see. And so that's sometimes where some of those follow ups come in around, hey, yes, and we have this industry recognized process that we deliver on, and we've done it at this many companies, and we run public training to teach others how to... All of that comes up then.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Because I think it's easy for us to overlook some of our accomplishments and not want to brag about it. But the reality is you specialize in architecture. You have a process that has been approved as an industry standard. That's another differentiator for you. You specialize, differentiator. You created a industry standard process, differentiator. That helps also, like you said, lend credence, authority, credibility. It's social proof that I think can help make you the obvious choice when somebody's looking at solving the specific problems that you solve. So congratulations.

Dan Hughes
I agree, though, you hit on a key thing there, which I do think. It's a little uncomfortable. I don't like being braggy about what we've accomplished. It's a fine line between, I think, being proud of what you accomplished and being braggy about it, I guess. And so I think sometimes that probably limits a little bit how much we tell things.

Tim Fitzpatrick
But it's one of those things where if we don't tell people some of these things, they're never going to know. Right. And so it's...

Dan Hughes
So you think in tattoo?

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. That's right. I don't think a tattoo on your forehead is un called for here.

Dan Hughes
Subtle. I got a subtle one.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. yeah, that's good. I like that. So what are your aspirations for the future? Where do you want to take things?

Dan Hughes
I guess I like where we've gone and where we're going so far. I'm comfortable with a slow and steady growth, which is what we've experienced. And I'm happy with the direction we're going. And so I would say more of the same. I think we're trying to grow our public training off or meaning help individuals or companies that aren't actually our clients but want to just send some of their solution architects to get trained. That's an area of the business I'm hoping to grow. I'm hoping that we're going to continue to be able to help clients like the ones we have now with our core service, which is that solution architecture and enterprise architecture services arm.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Interesting. Solution architecture training could be a really awesome way to just leverage more of your time, right? Whether it's through courses, through a combination of course and group coaching. I think that's a very interesting way to branch out and leverage a lot of time and have it be highly profitable.

Dan Hughes
I like the idea a lot of a product. Right now, I think probably a lot of services business, we're very time and material is almost hourly based. And the only way we make more money is to work more, to work harder. So I like the idea of a product.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Are there a lot of resources currently out there for people that want to get better at solution architecture?

Dan Hughes
Earlier when we were talking about competitors, I'm a little challenged to find a lot of competitors that do exactly what we do. It isn't a full space. I think there are other solution architecture offers, but not many. I also think not to the level of precision we are. We have this very refined but also almost prescriptive process and playbook that I'm confident can help someone be successful at doing solution architecture. I don't think there's much of that out there now.

Tim Fitzpatrick
There's a lot of opportunity.

Dan Hughes
Yeah. Things have brought, let's hope.

Conclusion

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yes, that's right. Well, this has been a fantastic conversation, Dan. I really appreciate it. I want to ask you one more thing before we start wrapping things up, and that's knowing what you know now, is there anything you would do differently?

Dan Hughes
I think the only thing I would maybe have done different is start on my own sooner. I've been really excited and happy at the way it's gone since I did start with it. So then I do question, hey, maybe I should have done that sooner. Now it's a balance because I built with it on an expertise that I built over a career. But I think that would be it. I really don't have any big, I would do this different in terms of how I launched or ran the business. I think maybe just to trust myself a little sooner. It's a very scary move to make, I think. Not I think, it is. I think if I had maybe trusted my own capabilities sooner, I think that would have been something I would have done.

Tim Fitzpatrick
I think a lot of people experience that. I appreciate you sharing it because it's especially people that are coming from corporate or used to working for somebody else and they're branching out doing their own thing. That can be a really scary thing. And you don't know what you don't know, right?

Dan Hughes
Right. I think sometimes it's hard, right? The only way I can say it is things are good enough, right? You're safe, you're happy, things are good enough so you're scared to monkey with that, which I think makes it extra hard to make that leap.

Tim Fitzpatrick
I interviewed a guy and I can't remember his name. It was two or three years ago, who talked about complacency being the killer of success. And us getting too comfortable, Oh, this is cranking. Everything's working. When we get complacent is when things fly under the radar and things go off the rails. So yeah, complacency is not a good thing.

Dan Hughes
Yeah, I think that resonates.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Yeah. Dan, where can people learn more about you if they want to connect with you?

Dan Hughes
Yeah, I think LinkedIn, that's where we post on all the channels, right? But the one where I do most of the posting of use, I guess, and of interest would be on LinkedIn. And then we have our website as well where I do those longer forum articles.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Cool. So you can go over to Wittij.com, which is W I T T I J. Com. And then we will put in Dan's LinkedIn profile in the show notes as well as the website link. But on LinkedIn, it's forward slash D Hughes HUGHES. So go check him out. Connect with Dan. Dan, thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. This has been a fantastic conversation. Those of you that are watching.

Dan Hughes
I would say thank you for having me. I enjoy talking about this. I like talking about the business as well as the solution architecture, so.

Tim Fitzpatrick
Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it. We pulled out. You shared a lot of good things that I think people can learn from on their journey and implement to help accelerate growth. We've been talking all about growth and accelerating growth. If you want to know which of the nine revenue roadblocks are slowing down your growth, you can find that out at revenueroadblockscorecard.com. It takes less than five minutes. To get your customized report there, you can also always connect with us over at rialtomarketing.com, which is Rialtomarketing.com. So, Dan, thank you again. Those watching, listening, thank you. Until next time, take care.


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About the author, Tim Fitzpatrick

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