Tim Williams is the Founder of Ignition Consulting Group, a firm dedicated to assisting agencies and professional service firms in optimizing their value propositions. As a globally recognized expert in business strategy and pricing methodologies, Tim is an international speaker and presenter for business organizations worldwide. He is also the author of Positioning for Professionals: How Professional Knowledge Firms Can Differentiate Their Way to Success and Take a Stand for Your Brand: Building a Great Agency Brand from the Inside Out.
In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran sits down with Tim Williams, the Founder of Ignition Consulting Group, to talk about pricing and positioning strategies for professional service firms. They discuss the inefficiencies of the billable hour pricing model, tips for leveraging AI to serve clients, and the benefits of business specialization.
Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:
- [01:53] Tim Williams’ entrepreneurial and musical background
- [05:18] The inefficiencies of the billable hour pricing model
- [08:25] How Tim collaborated with an author to form a new business
- [12:29] The effects of the pandemic on professional service firms
- [14:26] Common objections against ending the billable hour pricing model — and how this limits content creation
- [20:08] The benefits of specialization
- [24:44] Does AI impact the provision of professional expertise and brand building?
- [29:50] Tim talks about the people who’ve had a big impact on his life and his favorite film composer
Resources Mentioned In This Episode
- Ignition Consulting Group
- Tim Williams on LinkedIn
- Carl Smith on LinkedIn
- “Pivoting from Digital Agency to Building a Community of Digital Leaders With Carl Smith” on the Smart Business Revolution Podcast
- David C. Baker on LinkedIn
- “The Business of Expertise: How Entrepreneurial Firms & Agencies Can Grow Today With David C. Baker” on the Smart Business Revolution Podcast
- Blair Enns on LinkedIn
- “Business Development for Creative Professionals With Blair Enns” on the Smart Business Revolution Podcast
- Roger Hurni on LinkedIn
- Ronald J. Baker on LinkedIn
- The Firm of the Future: A Guide for Accountants, Lawyers, and Other Professional Services by Paul Dunn and Ronald J. Baker
- American Association of Advertising Agencies
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John Corcoran 0:00
Today, we are talking about pricing and positioning for professional services firms. So if you have a professional services firm or you have an agency, you definitely want to listen. And my guest today is Tim Williams, and I’ll tell you more about him in a second. So stay tuned.
Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and thought leaders and ask them how they built key relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.
John Corcoran 0:34
Alright, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I am the host of this show. And you know, if you’ve listened before, I’ve had all kinds of great guests. I get to talk to smart CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs of companies ranging from Netflix to Kinkos, YPO, EO, Activision Blizzard, you can check out our archives. And if you’re interested in more on the topic of pricing and positioning for professional services firms, check out some of the past archives, you want to look at Carl Smith, David C. Baker, Blair Enns, and Roger Hurni. Those are all great episodes that I would recommend to you if you like this topic. And of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25, where we help B2B businesses to get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And you can go to Rise25.com, or email us at [email protected] if you have any questions about that.
All right, Tim, such a pleasure to have you here today. I know we’ve been working on setting this up for a while. First of all, you’re the Founder of Ignition Consulting Group, which is dedicated to assisting agencies and professional service firms worldwide and optimizing their value propositions. And you have been an international speaker, and you’ve been an author, your book, a couple of different books, but one is positioning for professionals, how professional services firms can differentiate their way to success. And you’ve appeared in the New York Times, we were just talking about before the interview that you’re an Axios recently, Wall Street Journal, you name it. Pleasure to have you here today. But I’d love to take everyone back to their childhood because I feel like we’ve learned a little bit about people in a different way by hearing about that. And a lot of people tell me they did lemonade stands, or they did a newspaper route or something like that. Never before someone told me I had a radio station when I was a child, we found that deep in the archives of the internet, and I want to hear how did you started a radio station as a child?
Tim Williams 2:16
Well, let me be clear, I had a fairly small audience, I wasn’t able to monetize it, like most radio stations, but I had a heck of a lot of fun. I scrounged up the equipment, my father was a bit of a stereo nut and he happened to have you know, the old reel-to-reel recorder and the microphones, and so I just made friends with people who could help set me up. And I had a very limited little broadcast signal, but a lot of fun and kind of set me on the path toward a career in, in media, you know, things related to publishing, music broadcasting all caught my interest at a very early age, I suddenly have all these little
John Corcoran 3:04
things that are like little hints of what the future our future self is going to be like; for me, I volunteered at one point in my local community access TV station, I think I was like 12 or 13 years old, and they’re like, whatever kid like you could do this. And like they had me behind a camera for like, a town council meeting or something like that one or two times. But still like here, here we are. We’re using video to communicate over the internet, great media many years later. And, you know, it’s kind of just shows like what we’re interested in. And clearly, that was the case for you.
Tim Williams 3:38
Definitely, you know, I attempted to publish my own newspaper, I just created a little bit of an amateur media empire, you know, to the extent I could because I found that it just incorporated a lot of the things that interested me. So as you say, here I am years later, yeah, those skills.
John Corcoran 3:57
Now, you were also really interested in music, and you monetize that in a sense because you had a band that you played with some other kids tell us about that.
Tim Williams 4:06
Oh, yeah. Band all the way through high school and college and started college as a music major thinking I wanted to be a film composer and I, you know, wrote for the College Jazz Band. And I thought, you know, this is going to be a difficult way to make a living. I think there are about 10 successful film composers, and they all live in Southern California. So I wondered, was there another way I could use my interest again in music and related fields in a way that might help me support a family? And that’s when I thought, you know, advertising might be that path.
John Corcoran 4:45
Yeah, yeah. So, did you find that advertising? Would you end up working for Burson Marsteller? And Ogilvy, you know, a bunch of other agencies, but do you find that was like a creative outlet for you?
Tim Williams 4:56
Oh, definitely. Yeah, yeah. I mean, again, it’s I was looking for a career in which I could use music and use, you know, broadcasting and use those things that interested me as a kid, because they all come together in, you know, in some small way, if you’re in a, in a business like advertising, you’re able to work alongside those kinds of people.
John Corcoran 5:18
Yeah. So it’s funny because you know, now you’re are known as an expert in pricing positioning. You’re a big advocate of killing the billable hour. That in many ways, that’s what drew me to the work that I’m doing now because I was a practicing attorney for a lot of years billing by the hour and tried really hard to figure out a way to get out of it. And in part, I’m, I’m out of the practice law entirely, because I couldn’t figure out a way to kill the billable hour in the work that I did. For you. Where did where did that come along? At what point did you realize that we need to kill the billable hour?
Tim Williams 5:55
Yeah, well, I started my consulting business, Ignition Consulting Group. You know, more than 20 years ago, in the first half of my consulting life, I worked with mostly agencies, helping them with their business strategy, their positioning strategy; it’s a curious fact that firms that are in the business of helping their clients develop distinctive, relevant brands, they do such a poor job of doing that for their own brands. So that was the first half of my consulting life. But then I met a guy named Ron Baker, who just turned my world upside down when it comes to revenue models and pricing because Ron had written a book called The Firm of the Future that argued that the billable hour was a wildly suboptimal way for professional firms to capture the value they create. And I thought that that can’t possibly work with the idea of running a law firm or an ad agency without timesheets, it just seemed ludicrous to me. So I got to know Ron, and we hit it off instantly, he taught me alternate pricing methodologies, and I taught him the agency and marketing business. And together, we paired up, and did roadshows for large groups of agencies showing them a better way to to run their businesses. And so from there on out, I started teaching, pricing, and revenue model transformation alongside the positioning work. And I find that, honestly, this is, you’d expect me to say this, but this is the most important question for Professional Firms today is confronting the billable hour, because I’m going to boldly predict that within 10 years, there will be very, very few professional firms of any kind, that are still billing by the hour that are still doing timesheets. There are a lot of factors at play that are going to make that happen, the latest of which you and I talked about briefly before the show, artificial intelligence. Good luck building that by the hour.
John Corcoran 8:17
Yeah, yeah, I don’t know how you would do that. Or else it’s going to be really kind of a race to the bottom because people are just going to want to use the software or something like that. Yeah. First of all, before we get too deep into this topic, I’m kind of fascinated by people that in your words, found this book that wouldn’t you’ve kind of put words in your mouth was life-changing to you. Yeah. And you end up starting a business, the guy who wrote the book? Yeah.
Tim Williams 8:42
How did that come about? Well, we didn’t we didn’t actually start a business. We collaborated. He has a consulting business. And I had a consulting business.
John Corcoran 8:52
That’s amazing, right? That yeah, Meyer, someone from afar, so much that you say this book has such impactful on me. And then you reach out, and you start collaborating with the guy?
Tim Williams 8:59
Yeah, well, I’ve got to give credit to one of the senior people at the American Association of Advertising Agencies, Tom Finneran, who was aware of Ron and his work. He was aware of me and my work, and he said, these two guys need to meet one another. Because if I can get if I can get these two guys to collaborate on this topic, we might be able to effect some real change in our industry. And as I said, that’s when I taught Ron about the advertising business, he taught me about new approaches to pricing. And it was a total game changer. It brought me into a completely different network of people that I’d never met before. In other professional services. We have a think tank called Various Age, and Various Ages composed of other consultants like me who work in all professions, so law, architecture, accounting, IT consulting, and so together, we’re on a mission to bury the billable hour are in professional services. And we’re all tackling it from the point of view of the industries that we personally know best. So yeah, I would say it was a RMR. It wasn’t a coincidence. I mean, it’s kind of orchestrated by someone we both knew, but definitely changed the mic.