This week on the Scale Academy, Podcast Nick Freiling, Director/CEO of PeopleFish, joins Ned Arick and Hilmon Sorey to discuss his transition from traditional data analysis consultant to market research analyst in charge of his own company, and how he scaled PeopleFish into the successful business it is today.
Nick shares that before he started PeopleFish, he was a consultant doing a lot of data analysis at a high-paying job in D.C. While he did not enjoy the job, what he did discover is that he really enjoyed working with clients, selling, and building a brand. Nick ended up filling in for his boss one day on a presentation, and he nailed it. From then on he knew he needed to make a change, but he did not feel he could progress to that position in his current company. However, he knew he could do something similar on his own, so he made the decision to leave.
Nick began freelancing on Upwork, which is where began to collect clients. He laid out the projects that he was doing and sold them on the process, instead of pitching himself as an analyst, which helped him land some key clients. From there he was able to break off on his own and have his own brand. Continue listening at 00:27 to find out more about Nick’s decision and how he started his own brand.
Building a Business
Nick defers back to his previous comment about how he started by emphasizing that he sold a process, rather than selling himself. This allowed him to not have to repeat everything about who he is and what he does, so he was able to get through those conversations much more quickly and qualify or disqualify clients based on whether or not he thought it would be a good fit. He made a lot of phone calls and did a lot of projects for clients that were not what he was expecting to have to do when he started. He began publishing as much as he could and linked his website in those pieces. In his words, he did a lot of “freelancing on steroids.” He also did a lot of thinking out loud on his sales calls and was very transparent about his process for deciding whether or not a client was a good fit because talking through the process and the reasoning behind it helps answer questions. Continue listening at 05:55 to learn more.
Thinking Out Loud
Talking and thinking through the process out loud with his clients really enables Nick to decide which clients/projects will be a fit and which will not. He needs to hear who the client wants to survey and what questions they want to ask. Sometimes, in talking through it, the conversation ends pretty quickly. Other times this becomes a gray area because many products are niche-specific, and the process of talking through everything helps guide them down the path. Listen at 10:03 to learn more.
While Nick focuses on quantitative research for his clients, in regards to doing research for his own business, he tells us that he mostly does qualitative research- interviews with founders, meetups online, budget discussions. This qualitative research helps give Nick a sense of what his potential clients/target audience needs. Learn more at 11:26.
Nick has a good top-of-funnel mix, and a large contributing factor to this are his google ads. These took some time to become profitable, but because they are so targeted they have become a good contribution. People click and it takes them straight to his homepage. From there, they can go the route of the productized version, or they can reach out directly to Nick, and it is at this point that a conversation is born and project may (or may not) become feasible. Continue listening at 12:33 to learn more.
Systems in Place
One of Nick’s vendors helped him build an API integration between one of the apps he uses and their app that helps save him a little bit of time per project, which adds up when he is doing multiple projects in a day. He also pays extra for HubSpot automation sequences and marketing pro to take care of all follow up emails. Saving these bits of time where he can allows him to be on the phone with clients trying to sell and upsell more; it allows him to spend more time on the profit-producing activities. Learn more at 14:50.
The Path from $2M to $10M
Right off the bat, Nick found his stride very quickly and grew very quickly. He has remained slow and steady the following years, but he feels that every project he does breeds a potential returning client, similar to a snowball effect. As he previously mentioned, google ads has become profitable, and he relies heavily on word of mouth to continue to grow. Learn more at 16:22.
Nick is an analyst, so the metrics he is tracking include things like how many quotes are sent out, how many are paid, how many are in limbo. His goal is to get as many quotes out as possible, because that means he is actually talking to the client and the project is feasible. He uses HubSpot to track all of this and uses a lot of automation to complete this process. Learn more at 17:19.
The Impact of Market Research
Nick explains that the best clients he has are the ones who are really good at testing specific hypotheses through their research. Ideally you are working in a space you know and are testing a specific idea to see what they can do to sell more. Listen at 21:40 to learn more.
Nick explains that clients who listen to him will make sure that the questions they are asking in their market research surveys are questions that they can map to ad marketing. The reason for this is because if you are asking questions that aren’t targeted, you can learn a lot about someone, but you can use that information. Nick tries to build this into the surveys so that it can be mapped later on to serve ads against. Continue listening at 27:42 to learn more.
From a personal perspective, at 29:42, Nick explains that he used to get really discouraged when a client would drop out during the process and he would get very down about it. However, what he realized is that as long as you keep going, keep prospecting, stay persistent, you will have just as many good things happen. But if you’re not persistent, then you will only ever experience the bad. “You can’t fail at prospecting; you can only fail to prospect.”
Nick can be reached at people.fish or on Twitter @Nick Freiling.
00:27 The Transition
05:55 Building a Business
10:03 Thinking Out Loud
11:26 Qualitative Research
14:50 Systems in Place
16:22 The Path from $2M to $10M
17:19 Tracking Metrics
21:40 The Impact of Market Research
27:42 Ad Targeting
29:42 Tactical Advice