How April Dunford Built a 7-Figure Solo Consulting Biz

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Intro - 00:00:00:

Most people, I think, don't give themselves enough credit for the thing that they're really good at. So they'll say, oh, yeah, I know how to do that, but so does everybody else. But if you think about your work that you do all day in your job, what's the thing that everybody comes and asks you about? What's the thing you get asked to do over and over again because they think you're pretty good at it? You can start with that. And then the second thing I would tell you is that Most marketing jobs are very broad, like you're doing a lot of different things. And so you can get really good at something very narrow in a pretty short period of time by just focusing on it and studying it and learning a lot about it and doing a lot of engagements on it.

Louis - 00:00:42:

Bonjour, bonjour, and welcome to another episode of Everyone Hates, the no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast for people sick of marketing bullshit. I'm your host, Louis Grenier. In today's episode, you will learn how the most witty/ charismatic/ no-nonsense consultant in the tech marketing space has built a very, very thriving solo business. The story goes like this. On December 15, 2017, I got an email from my friend Sarah McKinnon, who's a marketing consultant in Canada. And she said, if you're looking for suggestions for upcoming interviews, have you looked into April Dunford? She's a marketing executive who's now focusing on consulting practice and positioning for startups. Wow. Every conference I've heard her speak at, she has literally blown everyone else out of the water. She's got a unique mix of saucy wit and laser-sharp insight honed over years with the big boys of the tech space. And I think her communication style would lend itself well to your approach to interviews. I'm reading all of this verbatim because this is perhaps the best description of my guest today. She's been on the podcast twice already. So that's the third time. And she's the only one who has the luxury to do this. But no more. Three interviews and then that's it. Anyway, you've heard of her for sure. She's not a white man with a suit and a beard in the tech sector. She has 25 years’ experience as VP Marketing, launching many, many different products. And I've loved looking at her business from an outside perspective. And today I get to ask. April don't follow the question I ever wanted to ask, but I couldn't. April, welcome back.

April - 00:02:26:

Awesome. Thanks for that intro. That's pretty amazing. Three times. What the heck?

Louis - 00:02:30:

What do you mean I'm never coming back?

April - 00:02:32:

What if I don't die and it's five years from now and we got something else to talk about?

Louis - 00:02:36:

You better keep doing interesting shit then. Or else this is it. Or else you pay me.

April - 00:02:42:

You know, they told me the same thing when I quit IBM the second time. They said, look, two strikes and you're out. That's it. We don't bring you back.

Louis - 00:02:51:

Yeah, and now they're like begging for you to ever work with them for an hour, I would say. Yeah. So you started consulting... In 2015, correct?

April - 00:03:03:

Yes, around then, yeah.

Louis - 00:03:04:

So imagine you have 10 seconds. To tell April from 2015 something to help her start business in the right foot. What do you say?

April - 00:03:17:

There's a handful of things. So the big thing is just focus. The broader you go, the less money you're going to make. And the harder everything is going to be. It's going to be harder to get clients, it's going to be harder to keep clients, it's going to be harder to be known for something. Like the faster you get focused, the better. And the more narrow you can go, the better. That's the first thing.

Louis - 00:03:34:

So that's 10 seconds. Yeah, I only have 10 seconds. That's it.

April - 00:03:36:

Okay, that's it. Just go narrow, man. Get really narrow.

Louis - 00:03:40:

So you're talking to yourself, right? You're talking to your past self. So does it imply that at the start, this wasn't your mind frame?

April - 00:03:49:

No, it wasn't at all, at all. At the beginning, I always knew positioning was my jam. Like in the later part of my career, if you hired me as the VP Marketing in-house, part of the reason you hired me is because you thought your positioning was weak and I could talk intelligently about that and you were gonna hire me, I'll come in and fix it. But when I switched to consulting, I didn't really understand how I could do positioning as an engagement. That was not clear to me at all. And so at the beginning, people were hiring me for all kinds of stuff and me, like an idiot, I was saying yes. So people would say, well, help us come in and fix your messaging and messaging isn't really my jam. Like positioning is one step upstream from that. But I was like, oh, maybe I'm gonna have to do positioning and messaging. So I'd say yes. Or they'd say, no, we're not really sure about our strategy. We're thinking about our long-term strategy. And I'm like, oh, well, that kind of relates. So I'd say yes. So I said yes to all kinds of stuff that was outside my zone of excellence, if you wanna think about it that way and I was not very focused. And part of it was that I couldn't figure out how to do it as an engagement. And so that actually took me a couple of years to figure out. Okay.

Louis - 00:04:57:

So what do we mean here? It means... It's how to sell that thing and deliver it in a way that is valuable. That's the offer, right?

April - 00:05:05:

Like, what's the offering? Like, do I go in and do the positioning for you? And if so, how do I do that when I'm not the VP Marketing? That's a very VP Marketing thing to do. And what pieces do I have to do? And what pieces can I let the team do? And how is that an offering? Where does the engagement begin and end? How would I price for that? How would I package it up? And so I messed around a lot for two years trying to figure that out.

Louis - 00:05:31:

Was it just the classic, your network, people you knew contacted you saying, I heard you're consulting now, can you help us with... Our go-to market with our messaging, with whatever. And you just say yes to anyone. Yeah.

April - 00:05:42:

And the reality was at the beginning, everybody knew me as a VP Marketing. They wanted to hire me as the VP Marketing. And then I'd say no. And then they say, well, what are you doing now? And I'd say, I'm consulting. And they're like, okay, we'll just take that. They thought they were going to do is convince me to come work and be the VP Marketing. So they're like, oh, we'll just pay her a little money to just hang around. And then we'll convince her that we're so great that she'll come in and be the VP Marketing. And in fact, my first two attempts at doing consulting previous to the one that actually stuck, that's exactly what happened. I started working with a company and fell in love with them and then went and did the VP Marketing job. So this time around, my first wave of customers were just that. They didn't even want me as a consultant. They just wanted to convince me they were amazing and then come in and be the VP Marketing.

Louis - 00:06:27:

Why did you go for consulting a third time? What was the trigger?

April - 00:06:32:

Really, really bad job.

Louis - 00:06:34:


April - 00:06:35:

The last one was the worst.

Louis - 00:06:38:

Yeah. In what way?

April - 00:06:40:

Really terrible, terrible CEO. Like a CEO was just awful. And I was really committed to that job. I was deep into it. And in my opinion, did some very, very good work there. And then was utterly not appreciated. And in a way that was just kind of terrible. And I had given up a lot to take that job. I took that job at significantly under market rates based on a promise that the CEO had made to me and then the CEO just blatantly broke that promise and didn't care. And so... It was a terrible experience. It was a heartbreaking experience. And it was good in that I needed that good hard shove to get out and say, okay, I'm done. I'm done doing this

Louis - 00:07:28:

. Yeah, five hours.

April - 00:07:30:

I’m not doing this again. I had some not great jobs before that, but this one was so bad and it ended so badly that it was like, okay, that's it. I'm done. And I think without that, probably just would have gone and got another VP Marketing job somewhere. That was the main thing. The second thing was that I was starting to think about what happens to April in her old age, man. I've done this VP Marketing thing seven times at seven different venture-backed companies. Am I going to keep doing this? Is this all there is? Maybe I go do something else for the golden years of my career. And so I was doing some thinking about that too. But I will say the big shove that got me out was this really shitty job. And it was just like, okay, that was bad. I'm not doing that again. I'm done. Yeah. Slamming the door. And it ain't opening again. That's it.

Louis - 00:08:20:

Finished. Okay. Thanks for sharing that. So in 2015, You started that on your own and You don't have to share the details per se, but financially, in your personal life, did you feel secure enough or did you feel like a risk?

April - 00:08:34:

Yeah. So that's part of the joy of doing this when you're older is you've already made a reasonable amount of money. And I had not the last job, which was bullshit, but the jobs before that I had been fairly compensated-ish, not bad. So I had been saving my money for 25 years and so I could afford to have a couple of years where I wasn't making all that much money. And the reality was if consulting didn't work out, I could make no money for a couple of years. And then I could just put up my little pinky and say, okay, I'm available. Hire me as your VP Marketing. And I get another job in 10 seconds. There's just not that many people. So it didn't feel risky to me at all. This is very different than where I was at in the early part of my career. I didn't even consider consulting back then because I was broke and in debt. I needed a job. Different situation when I'm old.

Louis - 00:09:26:

How much in debt were you?

April - 00:09:27:

When I came out of university?

Louis - 00:09:30:

Yeah, like what's the highest amount, I would say, like where you're in the hole the most?

April - 00:09:33:

Like I'm really old, so the number's not going to sound that big, but it felt big to me at the time. So I had paid for my own university because my parents thought university was a dumb waste of money. And so I went to university and paid for that. And at the end of that, I think I was 50 grand. I think American would be laughing at me because you wouldn't even pay for a year of school with that now. But this was back in the 90s. So I owed 50 grand and I had nothing and interest rates were 12 percent. So if they granted 12% felt like a lot.

Louis - 00:10:12:

I'm googling cost of living calculator, so I'm just going to pick, let's say, 1995.

April - 00:10:18:

I felt very broke, I'll tell you that. It wasn't like these people in the United States.

Louis - 00:10:23:

Wow so, 100 grand, basically. Yeah.

April - 00:10:25:

It's not like these people in the United States that come out and have hundreds of thousand dollars to get. But the flip side of that, too, is it's not like I had some big, rich family that was going to bail me out of any of this stuff. My dad.

Louis - 00:10:38:

Right. Yeah. So you didn't come from a very African background. You didn't come from like any of that. So at the time, then you were like in debt out of college and you had to pay it off. And so you worked your ass off in the industry for all. Yeah. More than two decades until the end where you felt financially secure, financially secure in your personal life and everything. You have kids, right?

April - 00:11:00:

And to be clear, I didn't want to run a business. That was never my goal. My goal when I came out of university was I wanted to be VP Marketing at a Fortune 500 company. That was my goal. After my first job and I discovered marketing was my thing, that was my goal for the longest time. And then I got this job at IBM and I was really senior at the end. And then I was kind of like, I didn't quite get the VP title, although I was like in line for the VP title. And so it essentially made it. And I was like, well, shit, now what? And I had a few years where I was like, I don't really know what the goal here is anymore, but I'm really good at this thing. So I just kept doing it, VP Marketing, whatever, up until I had this last really bad one. And I was like, OK, I ain't doing this anymore. So I got to do something else. And consulting seemed like the natural evolution of something to do next or at least something to try. So it wasn't like I was dying to be a consultant my whole career. I wasn't. I was quite happy being the VP Marketing.

Louis - 00:12:00:

Gotcha. Okay. So that puts things into perspective for 2015. So in 2015, you start working with clients. And in this two years timeframe, you still have this nagging feeling the offer or the engagement wasn't, you just, it was chaos.

April - 00:12:15:

It wasn't a nagging feeling, man. It was blatant. It sucked.

Louis - 00:12:19:

Right. But it sucked. Did it suck in terms of the finance of it? Did it suck in terms of your mental health and the anxiety that comes with it? How did it suck?

April - 00:12:28:

The big thing, what I was worried that I was kind of wasting my time. That was my big worry is the engagements were all different. The clients were all over the map and none of it felt good. Like you get to the end and I wasn't I didn't feel like I was really smashing the thing and I wanted to get to that. I had this thing. I actually went on vacation to the beach. The end of year two. And I was sitting on the beach and I was like, what do I want out of this thing? And I drew this little Venn diagram. It was like three circles. And one circle was, doing my best work, like not just okay work, like my best work. I wanna wake up in the morning and say, I am like right in my zone of excellence, would do my best work. And so I do a circle around that. And then the second was, I wanna be a little bit picky about clients. So I wanna work with good people. And you know, in startups, we got all kinds. Not everybody's.

Louis - 00:13:26:

That's a nice way to say most startups are assholes. But yes.

April - 00:13:29:

Not everybody's great to work with, right? So I wanted to put this circle around like good people. So it was my best work, good people. And then the last circle was I wanted to get paid what I was worth. And so it wasn't just about maximizing revenue, but it was kind of like I wanted to get paid what the work was worth. Because I had felt like in some of the startups I worked with, particularly the last one, I was getting paid way below my impact on the business. And even in the previous companies, you know, you're always working for stock options and stuff. But there's a million ways for your stock options not to work out. And so I felt like in the previous 25 years, I hadn't actually been paid what I was worth and so I put that circle in there, too. And that's part of what helped me get really focused down into. I need to just be doing positioning work because I'm actually not amazing at all the things. I'm actually just amazing at that. So I need to figure out how I do that with a company in a way that has a really big impact. And that was kind of what got me unstuck from doing a little of this and a little of this messaging stuff and some strategy stuff and a little of this and that and whatever.

Louis - 00:14:39:

So I actually drew your Venn diagram. So to repeat what you said, because it's very important. Your best work, what are you the best at? Something that pays well, that pays what you're worth, and with good people, yeah? Yeah. I think what helps for you, if I look from an outside perspective, is that you knew what you were very good at. And a lot of folks starting out consulting who don't have the experience that you have, they don't know what they're good at, right? And so the rest doesn't matter. Even if they work with good people and whatnot, they still do what you did with your hands. Which is a bit of everything and all of that. Yeah, yeah. Before I dive in a bit more into the switch and when you started to change your offer, what's the one advice you'd give folks listening who don't have necessarily the hindsight that you had about this is what I'm the best at to actually figure it out?

April - 00:15:27:

So I think there's a handful of things. So one is, most people, I think, don't give themselves enough credit for the thing that they're really good at. So they'll say, oh, yeah, I know how to do that, but so does everybody else. But if you think about your work that you do all day in your job, what's the thing that everybody comes and asks you about? What's the thing you get asked to do over and over again because they think you're pretty good at it? You can start with that. And then the second thing I would tell you is that most marketing jobs are very broad, like you're doing a lot of different things. And so you can get really good at something very narrow in a pretty short period of time by just focusing on it and studying it and learning a lot about it and doing a lot of engagements on it. So I had a friend of mine, and I think about him a lot, Alan, and he was doing a fractional chief product officer job. And these fractional jobs are generally not great. And so he was doing a lot of clients and he was getting frustrated with that. And he said, I think I need to pick an area of specialization. And he pulled out this thing at the time, the product managers, there was this training, it was called the Pragmatic Marketing Institute or something. And they had this diagram and it was like 59 little boxes of all the things a product manager does. And he told me he threw a dart at the chart. And it landed on this box that said win-loss analysis. And he said, win-loss analysis, perfect. It's a thing we're supposed to do. We never do it internally. It'd be great to bring a consultant in to go do it. And he, in three years, he was the absolute king of win-loss analysis, running a great big agency, doing all kinds of money on it, amazing. And globally, I could go anywhere. We get talking about win-loss analysis, people would say, I know a guy, and the guy was always Alan. And so I think that you start with something that maybe you've already got a head start on. You like it, you're good at it, you know some stuff. And then I think you can develop some IP around that. Like he developed a system around it. Like how should we be doing win-loss analysis? The average company doesn't think that much about win-loss analysis, but when they need it, right? So then Alan shows up and talks super intelligently about it and says, here's the methodology, here's how we're gonna do it. Here's how I'm gonna go. And he had a bunch of people he could call in and help you get it done, blah, blah, blah. Essentially, my stuff is the same. I had done seven, eight companies. And inside those companies, I positioned maybe 16 products in total. But you look at where I'm at now, I've done 200 since I started. There's nobody on the planet that's positioned 200 things. By the time you get to 200, who's gonna touch you? Nobody.

Louis - 00:17:56:

That's great advice. So let's maybe identify the turning point, right? So you're on the beach, you did this kind of Venn diagram thing. And for you, it was clear. So it was positioning you had in mind maybe a minimum engagement that you wouldn't work for less than X. Or what was it like the second part yeah i the money thing was funny because i was so worried

April - 00:18:19:

about the engagement and i just figured once i could figure out what the engagement was and i could figure out what people would pay for it and so at the beginning i was doing these very long convoluted engagements which included a whole bunch of customer research and interviewing everybody on the executive team and blah blah blah and these things were very long and so how status quo isn't an account. And if we have a sales team, I can pull it out of them. So I didn't actually have to go research customers, go get that if they had a sales team. So I changed the engagement and I stopped saying yes to companies that didn't have sales teams. I said, you guys, I think I did one because it convinced me they had the research to do it. And that actually worked out and ended up being a good engagement. But 99% of the companies that call me that don't have a sales team don't know the answer to the questions we need to answer in order to do positioning. So I just got rid of those guys. So that was one thing. So I started getting really picky about who I worked with. One was, you know, I had that circle that said good people. If I got a bad feeling in a qualifying call, I just said no.

Louis - 00:19:55:

Tell me more about that.

April - 00:19:56:

And I tried not to worry too much about the money. I just said no, because the problem is, is those kind of folks aren't going to be happy no matter what you do.

Louis - 00:20:04:

Yeah, and they're not going to pay you on time. I'm going to do the inclusion.

April - 00:20:07:

At the end, they're going to be like, man, it was okay.

Louis - 00:20:09:

See, tell me about this, because people really struggle with this. And again, I think you developed this intuition and this gut feeling over years of working with people, right? Yeah. Are you able to voice out the little things that make you say, so tell me more?

April - 00:20:27:

Okay, so here's the big tell, in my opinion. Is you'll get the CEO that doesn't want to admit there's a problem. Even though they're calling you, I want to admit there's a problem. So they get on the phone and they'll say, business is great. Everything's great. Things are really growing. Everything's great. But maybe our positioning could be a little better. I don't know. I don't want to admit that it's bad. And those folks are terrible clients. If they don't feel the pain, they don't understand that there's a problem. And so usually I just say, well, look, dude, if you don't think it's a problem, it's not a problem. Who knows your business better than you? Nobody does. Don't call me to come in to fix something that you don't think is broken. But sometimes folks will hire consultants to come in and then disagree with everything the consultant does and then fire them or get rid of them or get to the end of the engagement and go, yeah, they suck. They didn't fix anything because nothing was broken. So sometimes I get this vibe from a CEO that'll come in and be like, sell me on what you can do because I don't actually think there's a problem. I'm like, no, I'm not here to sell you on anything. If you don't think it's a problem, I don't think it's a problem. Sometimes they'll come to me and they'll say, well, my VC said I had to talk to you. I get this a lot now. The VC says, we're looking at April's stuff and they worked with someone else in the portfolio. We think you should come. You should work with April. And they come in and they're all cranky about it. And I'm like, look, if you don't think you have a problem, I don't think you have a problem. If you want me to tell the VC that, I will tell the VC that you don't have a problem. Nobody knows your business better than you. Including the consultant, particularly the consultant. I started saying no to all those people and my life was immediately better.

Louis - 00:22:01:

Okay. So sales focused. So they have a sales team. They are talking to the customer every day. They have this knowledge. You don't have to do the research.

April - 00:22:07:

So they had to be B2B. So B2B. They had to be B2B. They have to have a sales team. Those two things must be true. The third thing is that if they don't have enough experience with customers, meaning they're too new, either they haven't released yet or they've just got a handful of customers, we don't have anything to grab on to position around. We're just guessing. And so I don't totally disqualify them. I just say, you're not far enough along. Call me in six months. And so I started getting more. At the beginning, I would work with some of those guys thinking, yeah, maybe we could figure it out. But now I just disqualify them and say, no, there's not enough for us to grab on and we can figure something out. But it's just going to be theoretical and you're not going to be happy when you have to change it six months from now. So let's just not do it.

Louis - 00:22:49:

Let's talk about your engagement in terms of the way you describe it, the way you started sell $5-$ to 10K. So at the time, you were focusing on B2B sales. B2B. B2B companies that had the sales team. You knew how to recognize good clients, the ones that had enough customers to draw insight from, whatnot. So those are the people that you were offering that engagement. And so how did it look like then, the 5-10K engagement compared to what it is now?

April - 00:23:17:

It's not that different, to be honest. The engagement looks kind of the same. I think I'm a lot better at it, but I think the engagement looks the same. So one of the key things that I decided was that after working with folks on positioning as a consultant for a couple of years and thinking about how this worked when I was in-house doing positioning, I don't believe that a consultant can come in and do your positioning for you. I think that's stupid because there's no way the consultant would know enough about your business and the landscape and your customers and what's value and even if I spent two, three months interviewing your customers, I wouldn't know nearly what the people in-house that have been doing this stuff for years and years, like eat, sleep, breathe this stuff all day. So that was one thing. So my value is not doing the positioning. My value is I come with a methodology that is my methodology, I understand how it works, and I understand where it works and where it doesn't work. And so I come in, we get a cross-functional team together. We do two things. We work through the component pieces of positioning with me as the facilitator and with me as the outside person that can challenge people on the team and say, look, you're saying this, but you're saying that. Those two things are really different and we're going to need to resolve that. So what I'm doing is getting agreement and alignment across the team on the component pieces of positioning. And then the last piece is we take that positioning and we translate it into a sales pitch. And those are the two things I'm doing. So I have a methodology for doing the positioning bit and I have a structure for doing the sales pitch bit and how to map one to the other. And those are two things that companies like literally most of the companies that come to work with me, they have been messing around with this stuff internally for six months, eight months, some of them longer than that. And they just need outside help to get unstuck and that's my job.

Louis - 00:25:22:

Yeah, because they can't see the forest from the trees anymore. Like to their benefit, they know so much of the industry, but it also has, there's a problem with that. It's because you know so much, you can't fucking think for your customers anymore. You can't simplify things. It's just blurry, right? Well, it's the simplification.

April - 00:25:39:

Like they know so much, but they don't know how to start. So they're trying to do a positioning exercise, but what they're actually doing is brainstorming. They're just getting everybody together in the room and someone says, well, I think everyone loves our product for the reason ABC. And someone says, no, no, it's not that. It's XYZ. And who's right? It's just a battle of opinions. And so if it's a battle of opinions, the CEO wins, the head of sales wins occasionally. Marketing never wins that discussion like ever. Product rarely wins. So having somebody come along and say, I've got a methodology and it ain't perfect, but it takes as much as the opinions as we can out of it because it builds step by step. It starts with something that we objectively know is true. And then we build on it step by step across that. And then we don't just look at it intellectually like a bunch of marketers that are just going to go write messaging. We're going to take it and we're going to translate it into a story that the sales team can use tomorrow to go pitch differently. And there's huge value in that. If we can tighten up the pitch and we've already got a big pipeline of stuff coming into those sales reps, tomorrow you could be doing better business.

Louis - 00:26:48:

I want to go back to something because it's so important. People in the consulting, freelancing world know mostly about those three options, like done for you, done with you, do it yourself, right? This is the typical three kind of layers. And clearly the done for you, you learn that you can't do it for them, as you said, right? It's such a strategic engagement. Engagement, positioning is probably one of the, biggest decision you can ever make as a CEO or founder, right? So you learn that you can't, right?

April - 00:27:17:

Yeah, you're not going to outsource that to some do.

Louis - 00:27:20:

Well, I mean, some do. It doesn't work, but some do.

April - 00:27:23:

I know, some do and I think it's a mistake. It's a huge, huge mistake. A lot of those people come to me afterwards and they're like, we were wrong.

Louis - 00:27:30:

Yeah, fix it. Fix it. So the do it with you is basically the engagements where you learn the value of facilitating instead of telling them this is what you need to do. It's more like you bring it out of them and you guide them. Even though you probably have The certainty that, okay, this is what you must be doing, you probably delicately bring it to the table by sometimes, right?

April - 00:27:53:

Sometimes, yeah, sometimes. But I try to keep my opinions out of it because, again, I don't know. So I try not to jump ahead in the process because generally when I do try to jump ahead, I'm wrong. It's interesting how the thing actually comes out. You know, like the place where I probably have the most sway is that I think teams have a really hard time wrapping their heads around differentiated value and what's the difference between a feature and value. And that doesn't come naturally even to a lot of folks that are really experienced marketers. So I probably do the most kind of, you know, adjusting the team there where I'm like, I don't think that's value. Or I just keep asking the question, so what? Oh, we got this fancy AI thing, so what? Why does the customer care? Well, because, you know, it's going to save time doing that. Well, so what? Is that actually a big deal? I'm there doing a lot of that. But I'm trying to repress my opinions about what's valuable to customers or not because I don't know. I don't know. I know better than the people in the room. The people in the room know better than me.

Louis - 00:28:47:

That's so interesting because I think. Based on your experience in marketing, it's easy for a lot of people to believe that they are gods and they know everything and they fuck it up this way. So they try to do it for you and they try to like run down... So you've learned the hard way, but you can't do that. The other thing that you mentioned in part of your engagement that is so interesting is you're literally able to translate this kind of abstract thing, which is discussions around the table or whatever, to something that, as you said, the sales team can do and test with tomorrow. So your time to value.

April - 00:29:21:

Like tomorrow, right? You can walk out of here tomorrow and change something tomorrow. Instead of us, we're all going to navel gaze. We'll go through 9 million. Messaging takes a little bit longer. And I try not to get involved in messaging because I'm not good at messaging. And so most of the teams that I work with, they've got somebody on the team that's amazing at messaging. And so marketing is going to fool around a bit, taking that differentiated value of making the words really sing around that and testing the landing pages and the copy on the homepage and all that kind of stuff. Sales pitch, on the other hand, like 99.99% of the companies that come to me have a sales pitch that is absolute garbage. Absolute garbage and nobody's looked at it in ages. And we come out of there with a sales pitch that smacks that is a big thing that we can walk out and say.

Louis - 00:30:09:

But it's the time to value, right? It's so interesting to uncover because clearly this time to value, if consultant or anyone offering their knowledge can nail that part, it removes the risk and the decision from the client, right? It doesn't feel like it's going to be yet another six months long fucking project. We're going to talk and talk and talk. It's going to take forever. And then at the end, we don't fucking know what's going to happen, right?

April - 00:30:32:

Well, think about it this way, though. Part of what we're getting in the room, if you think about what is the nasty, hard part about messaging, is that nobody agrees. That's the hard part. So we're just getting the everybody agrees off the table. So we're like, look, the words aren't perfect, but can we all agree that our differentiated value here is this plus this? And getting everybody around the room to nod heads and go, yes. And then we go, OK, good. We're not a bunch of copywriters, so we're not going to group copyright this thing. We're going to let the copywriters do their amazing thing and make their amazing copy. But are we all but we're all agreeing that conceptually these are the three points. Yes, they are. OK, good. We're done talking about it. We don't need to come back and revisit this again. We're all good. Companies spend months monkeying around because they can't get agreement about this. And then they get it all down and then the head of sales goes, well, I don't like that. I don't like point number two. I don't like when you say that word, I don't like it. But what they don't like is the concept behind it. Same thing with the CEO. CEO's like, well, that's not how I would say it. So let's get everybody in the room and let's get it all out on the table and then let's agree. And then we're all going to get around and go, do we all agree? Yes, we do. Okay, good. Let's shut up about it now. We're going to pick it and stick it. We're done arguing about it. Go.

Louis - 00:31:47:

How did you play with that pricing? How did you go from 5, 10K to like on your site at the minute, it's 60K minimum, but I'm sure you charge more on certain products.

April - 00:31:57:

Here's the handful of things that happened. So one was I got really serious about disqualification. So, you know, you don't have a sales team, you're out. You don't think you have a problem, you're out. You give me the bad vibes, you're out. So I'm disqualifying a lot of people, which means I got to have a pretty big, wide open funnel. Like I got to have a lot of people coming in so that I could disqualify the majority of them. So at the time when I started, I was not a well-known person. People didn't know who I was and so people knew me in Toronto because I had been a vice president of marketing at a bunch of tech companies here. I had a pretty big network because I had worked at a bunch of US-based companies too. So people kind of knew who I was. They didn't know me as a consultant. They knew me as a VP Marketing and so I started to get serious about trying to raise my profile so that people could find me. So the first thing I did was I had always done a little bit of public speaking, and I considered myself to be an okay public speaker. And so I really leaned into that and said, okay, speaking is a way for me to get on stages in front of people and talk about the stuff that I know. And I could do a good informative talk that people would know me for this thing, and then they're going to call me. So I started doing a lot of that. I was fairly active. At the time, I was really active on Twitter. Now I'm hardly active on Twitter at all. But at the time, Twitter was big, and a lot of CEOs were doing stuff on Twitter. So I was fairly active there. And I was doing a little bit of blogging, but I was a pretty lazy blogger, to be honest, from the start and then when I'd really nailed the methodology to do this thing in a workshop, I thought, well, I'm going to write a book. And then the book would be really useful because anybody who had a problem with positioning, I could just point them at the book. And then if you read the book, you would know exactly what you're going to do with me, and either you'd say, yeah, this sounds good. I want April to come in and do it with us. Or they'd say, no, this is stupid. And they wouldn't even bother calling me, and then I wouldn't have to disqualify. So I was really focusing on building my platform where I reach so that people knew who I was. And the big pillars of that were social media, speaking. And then in 2019, I released the book and the book was a real game changer for me.

Louis - 00:34:15:

Tell me more about that. I don't want to necessarily take the knife and just put it back. It was into the wound. I don't remember how to fucking say that, the expression. But that year, that was the best and the worst. Was it because you were just, you worked yourself, like you burnt out doing all of this? Did you feel strain in your personal life? And how did, you know, how was it like?

April - 00:34:36:

So I way overextended myself on the marketing side of the equation. So I had really decided to smash my foot on the gas to get known. And then I wrote this book. And what took me, basically, the book was released in May 2019. So all of 2018, the book was coming, and I knew it was coming and it was this, it felt like this big deal personal thing. And I was going to be really pissed if nobody ever heard about the book. Like it'd be one thing, if people read the book and think it's bad, that's fine. You're not going to make everybody happy. But if nobody reads the book, because nobody even knew it existed, that's really going to make me mad that I took all this time, wrote this book and whatever. And it just went, because nobody knew. It was there. And then, like I said at the beginning, nobody wanted me to do anything. So then I turned into the yes machine for a year and a half where you want me to do a thing? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. I said yes to everything. So one, I was traveling way too much and I had not traveled much previous to that. And then I kind of went bananas for a year and a half and spoke at every conference everywhere. and so it was just like time zones and sleeping in hotels when you're not eating properly or working out properly because you're traveling too much and like too much travel, just hard on you physically. So that was terrible. And then all these podcasts and everything else, I'm saying yes to everything and my calendar is getting really jammed up. So I'm working in the days where I'm not traveling. I got super long days full of podcasts and things and no, could you write me a guest post and could you do this and whatever. It was awful. And so at the beginning of 2020, February, I actually sat down and went, okay, I got to really rearrange my life here because it's way too much travel and I got to figure out how to not travel. In 2020. This was February. I made this decision. And then it's my fault, I guess, because then, you know, the world conspired to make sure I didn't travel anywhere for a year and a half.

Louis - 00:36:42:

So then that was good because you were able to do less, obviously no traveling and you started to pick out the podcast you'd go on to or the webinars you'd take part in.

April - 00:36:52:

Yeah. So I started to get a little bit more picky about, I was still doing a lot of podcasts. I'm still doing probably too many podcasts now, but I am being a little bit pickier or at least spacing them out more so that it isn't all just a giant pile of them all together. And then I stopped doing speaking all together during COVID. I did a couple that were virtual events, like a handful, and they were terrible and didn't drive any business. So I was like, okay, this is an easy choice. I'm just going to stop doing these. I'm only now starting to do face-to-face events again. I did a handful last year. And then because I just released a book last week, so I'm doing a bit of speaking in support of that book now. It's conference season. I'm doing a bit of that now. And then the other thing that was really interesting was that business started to really take off because all of a sudden people know me and so lots of clients are calling me. And I was traveling. Every time I did a workshop with a company, I'd get on a plane to do that. March hits and we all go into lockdown. And I had five or six clients that were booked to do workshops with me. And I just called them all up and said, we're not doing it. canceled. Give everybody their deposit back. That was it. Because I was like, I don't know how to do this remotely. But I had one of those clients came back to me and said, well, couldn't we do it over Zoom? And I was like, look, okay, I'm going to charge you a little bit, not my usual rate because I don't know if it's gonna work and we're gonna do it as a test, turned out it worked just fine and so then I spent the next year doing way too many workshops because I could do one every week if I felt like it, because I was just sitting around home bored out of my tree. And so I did a lot of those. But the demand got so high because everyone was trying to reposition because of COVID. And so the rates went up. And again, the whole thing is just this kind of virtual cycle. Like now lots of people know about me. So I'm getting a lot more demand. I'm getting more demand from bigger companies. So the rates went up again. And so if you look at the kind of companies I'm working with now versus the kind of company I was working with five years ago, they're pretty different. Right.

Louis - 00:39:01:

You went enterprise.

April - 00:39:02:

Yes, yeah. I still have, I would say... 20,30% of the companies I work with, I would say are series B startups. So they're 10 million-ish revenue, 20 million-ish revenue in there. And then there's a big bunch of companies I'm working with that are way bigger than that. I'd say pre-IPO, kind of 80, 100, 200 million revenue. And then the occasional really big one. I did a bunch of work with Google and... Epic , I love those guys.

Louis - 00:39:35:

Sure, you're such a sure.

April - 00:39:37:

So it's a bit of that. But at the beginning, I was doing tiny little Series A funding Canadian startups. The result of me being everywhere and all over the place was now people know me and I'm getting opportunities that I didn't get before because I got lots of clients in Europe, which is super cool. Where at the beginning, I was working with everybody I was working with was really local.

Louis - 00:39:59:

And you went from... Lower than six figures to seven figure money. It's testament to your hard work and the sacrifice that you made along the way, but my analysis of what you've done is you provoked kind of your own luck and you were at the right time, the right moment. Not only COVID happened and everyone was repositioning, but I think the other big trend that you surfed on was the fact that product marketing as a discipline is growing a lot because... Not everyone is into pouring endless amount of money into startups anymore. It seems to be going back to a bit of science in terms of efficiency. Actually, we got to listen to customers and shit. So you are the intersection of all of that and then on top of that, you are at the right place and your book and methodology is absolutely phenomenal. Thank you. Because it's simple, but it's so difficult to create something simple, right? That world. So you fucking smashed it, right? Thank you.

April - 00:40:56:

But you're right. Like, and it's important to point that out. Like how much lucky things combine to make that happen as well. If my book had come out in 2020 versus 2019, it would have been totally different. Because 2019 was peak conference. There was a thousand million, there's still not nearly as many conferences going on now as there was, 2019 was nuts. I did 50 speaking engagements in 2019. And let me tell you, there's conference season. So that meant there were many weeks where I was doing two, three things in a week. Jesus Christ. And like, if it had been 2020, I mean, I don't know how I would have promoted that book. I couldn't go on the road and do conferences. The virtual conferences were stupid. That would have changed everything. And then like you say, there was this, the thing about marketing is the pendulum swings. We swing from being very tactically oriented, tips and tricks, when we had just come off of 10 years of growth hacking, fiddly tips and tricks, and the pendulum was really swinging back to fundamentals, right? Like, let's get back to the fundamentals. Do we really get what our differentiated value is? Do we really get what our target customer looks like? All that stuff. And there's me sitting around at that time. The other thing was that I had done all this promo on the book and then we went into lockdown and everybody was reading books. Like, it was a great time to be a person with a book because people were all doing training courses and reading books and doing all kinds of stuff and so that was good. Yeah, so you can't kind of discount some kind of funky luck and timing and all of that too. Not that I didn't bust my ass.

Louis - 00:42:33:

Exactly, but definitely it helped you. Sometimes you bust your ass and nothing happens. Exactly. I mean, you know that from past experience. The other interesting thing, I think, for anyone who's worried about focusing your attention, because as you described it, it's only B2B tech companies with a sales team that have a CEO that knows, right?

April - 00:42:55:

More than a few million revenues.

Louis - 00:42:57:

Right. and yet, when you hear people talking about your book, most of them are not in that profile and in fact, you wrote it first for tech companies. But in fact, so many people I know who are not at all in tech, nobody has used it, right? And... To me, that's a testament to the fact that even if you focus your attention on one thing, you can still build, as you described it earlier, like a massive pipeline of people who know you who don't necessarily fit that ideal profile, but you do need to reach them anyway, because then they know someone who works in that category and therefore you could be the right fit. And so it's not about saying no to everything from the distribution marketing side. It's saying no for the type of people you work with directly. But then spreading the message to pretty much everyone who wants to listen.

April - 00:43:48:

Yeah. One thing I will say that I think I've gotten better at now than I was at the beginning is like, When you're doing a lot of content creation stuff and doing stuff on social media and promo stuff, It's easy to get kind of caught up in things that are actually just vanity metrics. Like how many likes did you get on the thing or how many followers do I have and whatever and if I was trying to optimize for some of that stuff, that would have been a waste of effort because who I'm trying to get at from a sales perspective is very narrow. So for example, when I did my year of 9 million speaking engagements, at the end of that, I sat down and looked at, well, what are the types of events that actually drove me business versus the ones where, oh, everybody clapped and everybody loved to see me and there was lots of people taking selfies, but I didn't get any business. So what I found was there were only a handful of marketing events, like less than a handful of marketing events where the senior marketers actually show up. And a lot of the marketing events are very junior folks in marketing that are there to learn. And yes, I can sell some books there, but no business is going to come from that because they don't have influence in their organizations. They read the books, they do the stuff. Maybe they grow up and be my clients someday, but I'm kind of old, so I ain't going to be here forever. So I think I wasted a lot of time. If I look back at that 50 whatever speaking events I did that year, there's probably 10 I could have taken off of there that, again, very good for my ego to stand on stage, get the applause, all that stuff. But was it actually driving any business? Maybe not. So since then, I've gotten more focused on the places where I actually do show up. And there's a handful of conferences where the audience is tech startup CEOs. I just came from business of software. This is a great conference for me. Everybody there is very serious. It's not a huge audience, but it is a high quality audience. And so people are really smart, really thoughtful. It's a great place for me to be on stage. So I love that conference.

Louis - 00:45:55:

SaaS talk. You're speaking this year.

April - 00:45:57:

That's a good group of people there. I go there. I end up having good conversations and I end up with business. So that's a good place for me to show up. And then there's a lot of other ones that, yeah, maybe not. Occasionally, I'll throw one in because purely for fun. Like I'll show it and throw it in because I'm like, oh, I like Stockholm. I'll go there. What the hell? Haven't been in a while. But I'm trying to be more intentional about the place. I'm trying to get over my scarcity mindset when it comes to speaking and podcasting and all this stuff and learning to say no to some things. It would be fun and good or whatever, but not necessarily good for the business. Like my podcast, I'm very on the fence about it right now. So I have this podcast. Oh, okay. Yeah. So I had this podcast and I decided I was doing all these things where I was a guest on a podcast. And that seemed to work for me. But I'm always getting asked the same few questions like define positioning, what made you write the book, that kind of thing. And I thought, well, there's all these other questions that people have that I never get to get into. So I'm going to do my own podcast and it'll be this neat evergreen content that I'll have on my site. But it also, you know, be good for business and blah, blah, blah. So I launched this podcast. I got these folks to do production with me to make sure it looks really good at the beginning. So I'm probably overpaying for that. And I launched this podcast and I've got this thing and I'm about 20 episodes in. So however many months that is, I think I started it in June, maybe. And so I'm 20 episodes in and a lot of people say, well, I'll commit to it for 20 episodes. That was me. I'll commit to it for 20. So I'm 20 episodes in and I don't know. I don't know. I can't tell whether this is just good for my ego or if this is actually good for my business or what. So I know a lot of people are listening because my numbers are great. Like for a brand new podcast, numbers are great. I'm hitting all the charts. I'm like any way that you could measure how podcasts do against other podcasts. It looks pretty good for a brand new podcast. Anecdotally, I get a lot of people like I was doing conferences last week and people come up and say, oh my God, I love your podcast. I love your podcast. It's so useful, whatever. But I have not gotten one bit of business that I think was really attributed to the podcast. And so I'm a little bit worried that it's a little vanity project for me at this point. But for the money I'm spending on podcast production, which is not nothing, I would be better to focus that money and energy into doing something like, I don't know, a I should probably do a newsletter or something. But in doing something else that... Would actually drive some business. Because like the book, for example, I mean, there's no question there. Did that drive business? Absolutely, yeah. Barely cost me anything.

Louis - 00:48:35:

So last question, and in 10, 20 seconds, if you want, what's next for April Dunford in the next five years?

April - 00:48:44:

Well, I just released the second book, which was this focusing on this, how do we take our positioning and translate it into a sales pitch? And so I'm really excited to have that pitch. Sorry, that bit.

Louis - 00:48:58:

I didn't mean to say that. No, no, no. We'd keep it. Perfect.

April - 00:49:00:

All the swearing.

Louis - 00:49:02:

Yeah. Very effective to get that bitch.

April - 00:49:04:

So you get that bitch out there. But that's been a bit of a missing piece to the puzzle. I had the previous book on how to do positioning and people would self-serve and work through it themselves. But then they couldn't do the sales pitch part. And I was like, I know how to do it. I could teach you how to do it. Now I have a book so I can just point people at it. I'm amazed that this book doesn't exist already. Like the reason it's called sales pitch is because there's literally no other book out there called sales pitch. Anyway, so I'm excited about that. So the next year I'm in promo mode for that book. So I'm doing a bunch of public speaking, going around to conferences, doing all that kind of stuff. So I'm doing that. And that's going to be my big focus for the next couple of years. And then after that, I don't know. I'm trying not to plan out too far because like I say, I'm old and I'm doing a lot of thinking about what happens when April doesn't want to work full time at all anymore. What does that look like? and, things like that. So I'm doing some thinking about April's life outside of professional stuff right now. So that's where my head's at.

Louis - 00:50:03:

Interesting. Someone is going to build another cabin in the woods somewhere.

April - 00:50:07:

Yeah, I'm thinking a bit. That actually is on my list of things. Yeah.

Louis - 00:50:12:

See, I know you so well. You don't know me at all, but I know you so well. April, you've been a pleasure. Thank you so much for sharing all of those little tidbits and secrets that I never heard before from you anyway. It's been super interesting and I could literally talk to you forever. So thank you for your generosity as always. Thank you for what you're doing in the world of marketing, making it a better place because at least what you do is fundamental for businesses. So I love it. And also thank you for showing, being such an inspiration for folks who are not white men with beards, who know that they can be like April one day. They can look up to that and say, I could do my own thing in my own terms working with people I like and being the center of attention in a specific category. And so, yeah, thanks to you for doing that as well.

April - 00:50:59:

Thanks so much for having me on, even though you're saying it's my last time. Boo-hoo, cry.

Louis - 00:51:04:

I hope you've enjoyed it.

Creators and Guests

Louis Grenier
Louis Grenier
The French guy behind Everyone Hates Marketers
April Dunford
April Dunford
Positioning for tech companies. Author - Sales Pitch, Obviously Awesome.Newsletter - Podcast -
How April Dunford Built a 7-Figure Solo Consulting Biz
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