This is an extended excerpt from the conversation between the host of Inside Music Podcast, James Shotwell, and Connor Skelly, founder of Beyond The Music. James is also the Director of Customer Engagement for Haulix as well as the founder of AuxCordFM. To listen to the full conversation, click here.
James: Connor has a big history in music but he just left his job a couple of weeks ago and already has his first three clients. A goal he actually didn’t think he was going to achieve until sometime in January. In fact, when we recorded this episode I had to let Connor go because a fourth, potential client was calling him to hopefully secure their deal. Connor is going to tell us what it took to finally walk away from his job, his new role, and the challenges that you face. Because I think even if you don’t want to do what Connor is doing right now, the challenges that one faces in trying to go into business for themselves are largely the same; you have to pick a name, you have to know how to price, know how to not oversell yourself, but also how to not undersell yourself. You also have to have an open mind about what the marketplace is like. You might be a music professional who helps bands get ahead through digital consulting and digital strategy but in reality if you have those skills they can be applied to many industries. You can help banks, you can help coffee shops, you can help movie theatres. The fact is being open-minded to the limitless possibilities to your success. I think a lot of us want to believe that we believe in ourselves but Connor is somebody who is actually putting his money and his livelihood where his mouth his. And today he’s going to tell us all how we can learn a little bit from him. Second, Connor’s also going to talk about something that is near and dear to my heart which is music conferences.
J: What are you up to today?
Connor: A lot actually; today’s a particularly busy day for me. I got a few networking calls, a meeting downtown and a networking event tonight. And a bunch of client work and stuff so back to back starting in like 35 minutes.
J: So I want to touch on two things with you; a two fold Do It Yourself episode. So first and foremost, your new role and career that you’re developing for yourself. You recently took the plunge that everybody kind of dreams of doing which is you throw up your finger to the corporate world and strike out on your own. So tell the people listening what you did and why you did it and what you’re doing now.
C: Yeah so I was very fortunate, even before I graduated college, to get offered an internship with a big company and I worked there for two years and I couldn’t have imagined a better entrance into the professional world. I got such a wide range of experience and the boss that I had at the time was great and he gave me a lot of visibility to big boy business stuff. So I worked there for two years and I worked for this other company it was just like I’m sitting in this place for eight or nine hours a day and I can’t take it anymore. And for some people they love it, they love the consistency, but it prevented me from working on a lot of the stuff that I wanted to work on and playing around in different industries and working with different kinds of people. I had the idea for a few months because I did want to leave but I still wanted to build some type of infrastructure before I left. I didn’t want to be completely broke and scrambling terribly. But I made the jump and I have three clients right now doing marketing consulting; doing a wide range of things for them. They’re in all different industries and it’s been really fun. It’s been great to kind of make up my own schedule. I know that can be kind of daunting for people because they’ll get caught in laziness but there’s really no motivation like survival and having to wake up and like ‘well I won’t get paid if I don’t do anything.’ That’s a really good motivator.
J: And ultimately, do you hope to build this into a full time job? Is the goal to become full time yourself and build your own firm underneath you or do you just want to be a lone wolf out there in the social strategy landscape?
C: I don’t know I mean I’m definitely playing around with both ideas in my head and yeah right now, because I’m so new to it, I’m just focusing on the learning process, listening to clients, and not only understanding their needs and how I can translate it from a consulting perspective but really paying attention to client dynamics – what I like, what I don’t like, what I can improve and over time I’d like to get five, maybe seven clients at one time to really push myself doing this kind of work on my own.
J: Absolutely. In terms of getting that first client, or getting that first couple of clients, what did you find was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
C: I met the first client through one of my close friends…and the other client I met at my previous company. It was his partner that has a company in Chicago and they needed a new website so I was tasked to help redesign the website, some marketing campaigns and some other long term stuff down the road.
J: Was it hard to figure out a rate for your work? How did you figure that one out?
C: Yeah there’s a million ways to go about it, right? It always depends on the client and their needs and budget. I would start at a lower hourly rate, set the expectation that it’s typically higher but prove yourself in six or eight weeks, and keep the conversation to bump it up from there. Another thing you can do is project-based. If a company wants one marketing asset, or one thing, charge them a flat rate. It’s important if it’s a larger project to get a 50% deposit up front. Ultimately the goal is to get into a monthly retainer with clients, and if there are speciality projects, you can do a flat rate or an hourly rate on top of that. But right now, I’m in the phase that I’m taking in whatever I can.
I just spoke to someone recently who has been doing their own consulting thing for a while and got a lot of good feedback on not compromising in your pricing, but be willing to negotiate a little bit more. Let the client deny you. Put out what you want to put out and what you think is good and let the client say no. Don’t say no to yourself beforehand. Let them say no because what could also happen is you can underprice yourself out of work.
J: It’s funny you say that because as you were describing it, I don’t really think about things that way. I had an opportunity earlier this year where I was approached by one of these rappers that have a liquor company and they had paid someone to write a short novela but they didn’t like it so they fired that writer and was going to hire a new writer to come on and do the project. When we were talking about it they came to me and they were like ‘how much would you charge to do this.’ In my head I tend to think what the lowest amount of money I’m willing to take. Because my biggest fear is saying I will charge X and they immediately say nevermind. I never thought to think of it as the opposite as the price you give it also reflects value; like a Walmart vs. Target kind of thing.
C: Exactly, and the value of tier pricing too. So if that rapper was like ‘what do you charge’, and you said ‘I’ll offer you this minimum viable product for the lowest amount, or I can do the minimum viable product, plus this service for this price.’ You can do as many tiers as you want because then the ball is fully in their court. You are being as transparent as you can and you can negotiate from there if you need to.
J: There’s nothing worse in the world to me then suggesting how much I’m willing to do something for thinking it’s too much and the person responding within a minute like ‘oh yeah totally.’
C: Yeah absolutely. Every client is different; every industry is different. Even if you and I were doing the same exact project but I was doing it for the finance industry and you were doing it for music, the budget alone is going to be way different. And that’s only one variable. It’s trial and error, it’s remembering what the scenario was and how you went about it and if it happens again, what could you do better.
J: So with this in mind, we’ve been talking about this behind the scenes and I believe strongly in the idea that if you bring something into the world, it has a better chance of actually coming together. So if we say we’re going to do something or we’re working on something, we’re going to actualize it right now. I’ve been trying to get Connor to help me develop a music industry conference of sorts for West Michigan; Michigan as a whole but specifically west Michigan. Grand Rapids is kind of considered a B or C level market which means if Katy Perry goes on tour she’s going to play Detroit and Chicago but if she goes on tour long enough and does all the big cities, the next time around, she’s going to play Grand Rapids…So it’s a thriving, rising city and Connor has a history of putting music industry conferences, and events and networking and getting people to give a shit about other people who might not know that much but want to build something together. With all this in mind, and the idea of doing it yourself, and not getting yourself down because you don’t know what you’re doing, I want to get people inspired to do the same. If someone wants to put on a music event, give me a brief summary of what you would tell them to encourage them to give it a shot.
C: First, what do you want to accomplish and who do you want to target? So for the industry workshop that I did for Beyond The Music last May, I wanted anyone that was interested, maybe students or people who are just starting out the music industry and give them visibility to people who work behind the scenes. So my goal was to educate. Now another goal could be to entertain,to facilitate dialogue or conversation. That’s where I would start: what do you want to accomplish with this and then who are the people you’re going to target, and then how are you going to go about doing it. Programming with workshops, or how to create an elevator pitch, or with photography or community building. Create programming around that and then do tactical things; the date, the venue, you need tables, chairs, lighting, all that stuff. Ticket sales, ticket tiers, there’s a million things.
J: My big thing right now is not getting hung up on stuff that’s not getting done. I’ve sent out a bunch of emails to venues, and then I kind of hit this road block and haven’t gotten any further because I’m waiting on somebody else. If you’re going to do A, B, C, D, and you hit that wall at A, how do we move on while waiting on those people? Do you think as an organizer that it’s good to start thinking about more of the tangential things? Maybe I don’t have a venue yet but what kind of things do we want to discuss? How [do I] build when I don’t have some of those big pieces in place yet?
C: I did this exact thing and this is going to sound super nerdy and businessy but it’s one of the those things that I learned from a class in college. For the workshop, I created a Gantt Chart. It’s sort of like a waterfall approach to project management like you said A, then B, then C, but it’s where A and B can overlap, or A and D can overlap or any combination of those things. So it’s a timeline and it’s all the tasks that you need to accomplish so you can better map out what needs to be done and when you can do things over other things. While you’re waiting for other stuff to get done, ‘what else you can accomplish?’ It’s a really good way to visualize that.
J: You said to have a specific goal and having a specific goal is really good but for you, when people are thinking about the person coming to the event, what do you think is the thing that attracts people the most? Is it having those big name speakers, is it the cost? What have you found is the biggest motivating factor in getting people to participate in new events that don’t have any history or any real authority quite yet?
C: …I think what’s most impactful regardless if it’s your first event, or your thousandth event, what is the value that you’re offering to people? Because at the end of the day, people are going to look out for themselves, that just how people roll so if I am a high school senior and I really love music and I love reading all music industry news and all that type of stuff and want to learn more about it, how am I going to benefit from this event? And so putting yourself into that world and being like ‘alright here’s a program we’re going to create, here’s 1-5 workshops we’re going to create for that person so that they can come out of that [event] thinking they don’t like the music industry at all’- which is still valuable. Or they have a million more questions, or they’re like ‘yes this is amazing and perfect. I want to learn more and network and continue this path that I’m on.’