March Consultant of the Month
Early in her career, Tricia McKinney chose to be an entrepreneur rather than continue on the typical corporate marketing path. After starting and running a boutique ad agency for several years, she turned to consulting when she became a mother, and enjoys the independence and flexibility it provides.
What are you currently working on?
I'm at Intuit working on partner marketing, supporting QuickBooks integrations built by Intuit engineers for Amazon and Square. These apps automatically bring in transactions rather than having to enter them manually. I've been working on go-to-market strategies and executing product messaging, banner ads, social media, and videos.
Tricia’s Keys to Success
- Entrepreneurial spirit
- Tolerance for risk
- Gets stuff done
- Keeps in touch with her network
- Is selective about contract work
Why did you decide to become a consultant? What path did you take?
Early in my career, I was a marketing manager at AT&T and decided that I wanted to own my own business. I didn’t love the bureaucracy and all the training required in the corporate world.
In 2000, I started a boutique ad agency with one of my sisters. (I'm from a big family of eight kids.) My sister was the lead graphic designer and I was the business person. At the time, I had just bought my first house with my now-husband. Our expenses had gone up significantly, and my income went down to zero for the first few months.
We did it for six years, and were fortunate to have had hundreds of clients. Then, she and I had babies two months apart. We wanted to have better work life balance, and she wanted to focus on her fine art career.
I thought I would simply take over the agency, but I got a call from a woman that used to work for me. She asked if I would consider a short-term product marketing opportunity at Charles Schwab. I hadn't done any consulting work but gave it a shot. It morphed into a three-year contract, and I've been a consultant ever since.
I see consulting as a bridge between owning your own business and being a full-time employee.
I see consulting as a bridge between owning your own business and being a full-time employee. Owning the agency was awesome but it was typically feast or famine. Some months were crazy busy or we'd have lulls, whereas consulting is more steady.
In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
I would have loved to connect with a company like EM Marketing earlier in my career to help me find gigs. It was a bit of a grind when I was doing consulting on my own — I’d have a full-time contract for six months or I’d do project-based work for clients from my agency and pick up other small projects here and there.
What has been your favorite project to work on? Why?
At the agency, we landed our biggest project ever with CBS SportsLine, promoting fantasy football. Outside of occasionally watching the 49ers, I knew nothing about fantasy football. My sister knew even less. We brought in a copywriter we knew who was not a sports person. We had to come up with 10 different creative concepts for a full page ad, as part of a big media buy they were doing. It was completely out of our comfort zone, but it was super creative and challenging in all the right ways. We wrote the messaging, did the design, and produced the ads. We ended up contracting with CBS SportsLine for the next three years.
What do you love about consulting?
My favorite thing is flexibility. During one of my contracts, my husband had to travel a bunch, but I could be close to home. It was the right amount of balance, especially if I needed to take my son to a doctor's appointment. With my current contract, I’m working 30 hours spread out over four days. I make sure to get things done, knowing that I'm not going to have that extra day. Having one day off a week has been a game changer for my family.
I've always loved working 25 to 30 hours a week. It's part-time, but it's enough time to do nearly a full-time work load because you don’t have to attend so many meetings. There’s less fluff in my schedule.
What has been your biggest challenge about being a consultant? How have you addressed it?
Effectively balancing my work life and home life. On one contract, I worked 45 to 60 hours a week. The company wanted everyone to work onsite in their San Ramon office, and I live in Los Altos. Some people can meditate or listen to podcasts, but I'm not a good commuter. When I worked at Schwab in San Francisco, I remember getting off work at 5:30 p.m. and praying that I was going to make it home in time to see my son before he went to bed. In bumper to bumper traffic, the whole ride was stressful and I felt like I wasn't being a good mom. Now, I’m more selective with projects, having gone through those experiences.
How do you market yourself?
Mostly through networking, but I'm fortunate to be connected with EM now. I’m okay taking a risk and doing something I've never done before, because that's a way to grow. People who've worked with me know that I roll up my sleeves and get stuff done.
What are the things you like to do when the work slows down?
I've got a 16-year-old and a nine-year old and we like to go places, whether it’s skiing or to the beach. When they were younger, we booked a flight to Scotland with just four days advance notice to join my sister who was renting a house there.
During COVID, and in the last couple of years, I've gotten more into cooking and baking. Cooking used to be intimidating and stressful to me. I never followed recipes well. I’m a visual person, so when the internet started presenting cooking blogs, shows and videos, it really helped. Now, I actually find it to be a stress reliever. It's something that I can do with the kids, especially during this time when there's not much outside the house that we can do.
What’s one tip you would give to new consultants?
Keep your network up. It's especially good to network when you’re not looking for a job so people don’t feel like you're only reaching out to them when you need a recommendation or a job lead. You want to cultivate relationships all year long — it goes a long way. You might have people call you up out of the blue to ask for help. If I am already committed to a contract, I will do the legwork to help find another consultant, so I stay in their mind as someone that can provide value. It also helps your consulting friends too, and they might refer you to your next contract.