Will Bachman

Co-Founder of Umbrex

Will Bachman is the co-founder and Managing Partner of Umbrex in Queens, NY. a global community connecting 650 top tier independent management consultants across thirty countries.

After five years at McKinsey, Bachman left in 2008 to start his own independent consulting practice. He soon realized that while he knew how to run consulting projects, he had a lot to learn about how to run a consulting practice. He had dozens of questions: how to find health insurance, how to write a proposal, what to look for in a contract, what to charge for his services. To answer these questions, he began connecting with other McKinsey alums already running their own firms.

Recognizing how much value he gained from connecting with others, Bachman began to build a community that would connect independent management consultants with one another. That community grew into Umbrex, which has the mission of creating opportunities for top-tier independent management consultants to build relationships, share lessons learned, and collaborate. Umbrex generates its revenue by helping clients find the right independent consultant for their project needs.

Bachman is also the host of one of the top podcasts focused on independent consulting, Unleashed – How to Thrive as an Independent Professional, which has over 230 published episodes.

From 1992 to 2000, Bachman served in the U.S. Navy as a nuclear-trained submarine officer, making major deployments in support of national security and receiving three Navy Achievement Medals.

A graduate of Harvard College and Columbia Business School, Bachman lives in New York City with his wife Margarita Soto and three children.

Where did the idea for Umbrex come from?

After five years at McKinsey, I left in 2008 to become an independent management consultant. I had consulting skills, but I didn’t know how to set up and run a consulting practice. A new independent consultant needs to get health insurance, get business insurance, register a domain, get branded email, set up a website, develop a contract to use with clients, and fifty other tasks, none of which I had done before. At the time, I was reading Seth Godin’s book Tribes. Based on my own needs and Godin’s book, I was inspired to create a community that would connect top-tier independent management consultants with one another, to create opportunities for consultants to build relationships, share lessons learned, and collaborate. The name “Umbrex” comes from “umbrella of excellence.”

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My day starts at 4:45 a.m., when I get up to walk our poodle and pick up my morning coffee at Starbucks, which opens at 5 a.m. Then I head back to my office, which is in the basement of our house.

In my office I’ve got two desks – one for computer work, and one without a computer, where I work by hand. I start the workday by writing in my bullet journal for 10 minutes – usually making a list of ideas on a given topic. Then I take a fresh page and write out all my action items for the day. I start by looking at the previous day’s list, I circle any items that I didn’t accomplish. If they are still relevant I rewrite them on today’s list. I add any new action items that have come up. I prioritize and identify the key tasks that need to get accomplished today and work on those first. Then I review my calendar and time-box my day, scheduling on my calendar when I plan to work on each priority item.

After planning my day and writing in my journal, I meditate for ten minutes and then go for my morning run, 3-5 miles.

I’m back to the house by 6:15 am, at which time I’ll check in with my wife on our plans for the day, and then I check in with our three kids, and give them all a hug.

By 7 a.m., I’m back at my desk. I love the variety of my days, which include a mix of the following activities:

Discussions with clients: At Umbrex, our core activity is helping our clients find the right independent management consultant for a given project need. That process starts with a discussion with the client on the context of the situation, what they seek to accomplish, and the type of consulting support they need.

Discussions with consultants: I speak to several independent consultants every day. Topics include: seeking the right consultant for a particular project, helping a new independent consultant get set up, touching base on latest trends, or sharing lessons learned.

Podcast: I host a weekly podcast, so at least once per week I’m interviewing a guest. Then there is some additional time required to write the show introduction and publish each episode.

Content creation: I lead professional development events for Umbrex including monthly online events and several two-day events each year, so I spend time creating content for those sessions. I also write a weekly email to the 800 members of Umbrex that includes consulting tips, project opportunities, and book recommendations.

Consulting: I remain active as a management consultant myself, so a couple hours each day I devote to projects where I’m directly serving a client.

Special Projects: A current initiative is publishing a video course I have recorded that is titled The Umbrex Guide to Setting Up Your Own Consulting Practice.

Administrative: Umbrex revenues are in the 8-figures, so there is generally some administrative work each day – dealing with finance, insurance, contracts, and such matters.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’ve learned that the first step is to capture the ideas.

I may have some idea that I think is genius and could never possibly forget, but if I don’t capture it right away, the idea is gone by the time I’m back at my desk.

So, I’ve made a habit of capturing new ideas in Evernote whenever I get them.

The next lesson I’ve learned is to get started as soon as possible on putting an idea into practice by taking some positive action.

For example, I had the idea one year ago for a video course on how to set up your own consulting practice.

The day I had the idea, I made an Evernote entry with a list of possible topics for course topics. That initial list helped plant the seed.

I find that if I get something written right away, even very rough, my mind will then work on it in the background.

Another lesson is to learn to kill ideas early when they don’t look like they will yield the desired results. I’d rather start ten ideas, kill seven and accomplish three of them, than spend a year strategizing and planning and evaluating to determine which ideas are the best.

I prefer to start fast, experiment, see what works, keep ideas that have traction, and move on from bad ideas.

What’s one trend that excites you?

More and more organizations are recognizing that it makes sense for them to engage an independent consultant rather than a large consulting firm.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I keep my notebook by my side the entire day, and write down by hand any new tasks that come up. Once I’ve written the task down, I don’t need to remember it – that clears up mental space and allows me to stay focused on the task at hand.
I recommend time boxing and the other advice in Nir Eyal’s fantastic book Indistractable.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Study less, and invest more in building relationships.

Getting top grades in every class in business school should be considered a failure of imagination.

If I could do it over again, I would study an hour less per day and spend that time having breakfast or lunch with a classmate each day.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Investors understand that it is prudent to diversify in order to lower risk. Individual investors mostly put their money into index funds not individual stocks.

And yet many W-2 employees believe that working for one employer is a less risky career choice than becoming an independent professional.

I think a career as an independent professional is actually more robust and lower risk than being an employee.

As a senior exec, you might find yourself out of job after an acquisition or some other event outside your control. At senior levels, it can take 6-12 months to find a new role.

Meanwhile, independent professionals have the opportunity to diversify this risk by building a portfolio of satisfied clients.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

At least once per week, I interview a new guest for my podcast, Unleashed – How to Thrive as an Independent Professional.

Hosting a podcast has incredible benefits and I recommend it to every entrepreneur.

The podcast provides me with the opportunity to build a relationship with my guest, learn something new, and create content that helps raise my visibility.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

I attempt to take a five decade time horizon, particularly with relationships.

The transactional mindset asks: what can I get out of this person right now?

The five decade time horizon mindset asks: will my life be richer over the next five decades if I know this person?

An entrepreneur with a five-decade time horizon is not looking for an immediate payback or expecting that investments in any single relationship will be paid back.

Long-term investments in relationships require patience, but they have higher returns. When you demonstrate that you’ll charge a fair price, that you act with integrity, that you’re generous with your time – that builds trust, and trust builds loyalty and lowers future transaction costs.

Play infinite games.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The failure I’ve had as an entrepreneur is to be the bottleneck of my business and put myself in the workflow of core business processes such as sending invoices, paying bills, updating our CRM system, or responding to inbound inquiries.

I’ve made significant strides to remove myself as the bottleneck. For example, about two years ago I hired an executive assistant to monitor my email. I’ve delegated authority such that for certain routine types of inbound emails, my executive assistant sends a reply from my email account.

For invoicing, I’ve taken myself out of that process entirely by delegating it to our operations officer and our bookkeeper.

I now make a point of reviewing my own activities monthly and work hard to keep delegating any task where I’m not adding unique value.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Concept that I would happily pay for: On-call Technical Concierge

Too much of my life is spent trying to figure out how to get some piece of hardware or software to work.

I’d like to be able to call a phone number and have a human being pick up before the third ring. I explain what I need help on and get transferred to an expert within a minute. That expert can remotely log in to my computer to see my screen and help me on any type of software topic, whether that is figuring out a function in Excel, setting up a printer, setting up an Apple ID for my daughter, installing a new CRM system, adding the right video drivers so that Adobe Premiere works, getting the Wi-Fi extender to connect properly to the main Wi-Fi station, etc.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Das Keyboard. When I’m at home, I connect this keyboard and two monitors to my laptop. The Das Keyboard is much more responsive than a laptop keyboard – I type 50% faster and make fewer mistakes. Love the feel of it.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

MixMax gives you email superpowers – I’ve done a whole podcast episode on why I love it. A few superpowers you get with Mixmax:

You see who has opened your email, how many times, and when
Automates sequences, so you can send follow-up emails if the recipient doesn’t respond

Send emails at a future scheduled point in time – great when you are working on a Saturday night and want an email to go out Monday morning

Easy mail merge, so you can customize the first name and any other field you want in the body of the email

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The single best book for entrepreneurs on how to generate business is The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients: 6 Steps to Unlimited Clients & Financial Freedom, by David A. Fields. I’ve given away over 200 copies of this book. While the book is focused on consulting, many of the lessons apply to any B2B business.

In clear prose, David explains how to figure out what problems your firm ought to solve for clients, how to communicate your value proposition, how to build relationships, how to raise your visibility, how to write a proposal, and how to negotiate a deal.

What is your favorite quote?

“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself he always seems to be doing both. Enough for him that he does it well.”

This quote is sometimes misattributed to James Michener or as a “Buddhist saying.” It actually comes from a 1932 book, “Education through Recreation” by Lawrence Pearsall Jacks.

Key Learnings:

  • Take a five-decade time horizon to investments in relationships
  • Capture ideas immediately in a note-taking tool such as Evernote
  • Win the day by making a hand-written list of action items, prioritizing them, and scheduling them on your calendar
  • An independent professional with multiple clients may have greater job security than an employee
  • Remove yourself as a bottleneck from key business processes. An entrepreneur’s job is to become dispensable