July Consultant of the Month
With over 20 years of consulting experience in product management and marketing in the financial industry, Liz Tobiason enjoys a flexible lifestyle that allows her to pursue hobbies of gardening and spending time outdoors.
What are you currently working on?
I'm working at Visa in their global product marketing group – developing marketing plans, B2B sales enablement tools, and customer communications, as well as conducting market research to support new products. We’re answering questions like how much should we be investing in marketing and, how should we talk to consumers and clients about these products?
Liz's Keys to Success
- Building deep experience in payments
- Recognizing her need for change and variety
- Marketing herself as a specialized expert
- Using word of mouth to find new projects
I started out on a small project there about a year ago, then it extended into more work for other products. The people I'm working with are really great, smart and fun to work with. Visa is an innovative company with many new initiatives so I think contractors can really help support their business model.
What path did you take to become a consultant?
I worked in media, when newspapers used to be newspapers, doing market research for the San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner. Then I transitioned to an analytical group at Wells Fargo. After a few years, I moved into product management and product marketing. As I made my way up the corporate ladder, the company tried to motivate me with bigger titles or more work. But I didn't want my boss's job.
I had a contractor working for me and to be honest, I liked her job better. We put her on big projects because she had a lot of experience. I decided that's what I wanted to do. The flexibility was attractive because I have a lot of hobbies. Over the years, it has helped me balance my lifestyle. It was glorious when I had kids. Depending on their age, I could take 20 hour a week projects or go full time. My contracting could ebb and flow as needed.
In hindsight, would you have done anything differently?
Not a thing. I wouldn't have become a contractor earlier because I needed all the experience I had to provide value. Early on, one of my clients told me that as a contractor, it’s easy to say you’re a generalist. But if you focus on your area of expertise, people automatically think of you when they need that specialty. She advised me to market myself as a payments and e-commerce expert.
At first I was afraid to because I might be giving up work. I realized that focusing on financial services helped me get projects. I got repeat clients because they knew I could come in and get it done. So that advice was helpful for me to stay on the right path as I got more experience.
What was your favorite project to work on or work you are most proud of? Why?
When digital wallets first came about (Apple Pay, Google Pay), Wells Fargo brought me on as a contractor with a small team of employees to help manage the launch of these wallets. It was one of the first times I saw all my years of experience come together and felt like I could really contribute – I knew the digital side, mobile payments, and the marketing side really well. It was fun to see that project happen end to end.
What do you love about consulting?
In general, I like change. Consulting always provides something new. I hardly ever get bored. Every time I start a new project, it's the right amount of feeling like I don't know what I'm doing, but I always figure it out.
What has been your biggest challenge about being a consultant? How have you addressed it?
I know I need to be more outspoken early on and ask questions to make sure I understand everything. It pays off. I have the confidence to do that and never feel like I'm asking a dumb question because it's always helped. Better to ask in the second week than 12 weeks in!
How do you market yourself?
Nearly all of my projects have come by word of mouth. I contracted at [Bank of America] first, having heard of someone there that used to work at Wells Fargo. The natural transition was to return to Wells Fargo and my contracting career took off. I let people know when I'm finishing up a project and looking for another. And, EM Marketing is the best agency as far as the projects they get, how they communicate, and how you apply to them. I have worked on two projects through EM Marketing that I would never have gotten on my own.
What are the things you like to do when the work slows down?
I got into cycling when I moved to Colorado. It's just amazing here. There are so many places to go. I love hiking – the front range is 15 minutes from my house. I just finished the master gardener program. I grow way too much in my flower cutting garden, so I make bouquets for my neighbors in the summer. I'm trying to grow vegetables for the first time. The season here is short compared to California, so I was kind of spoiled. It takes a lot of time, but it's really fun.
What’s one tip you would give to new consultants?
When you start a new project, seek clarity and ask questions. Know that they are hiring you to figure it out. Taking something off your client's plate is the name of the game. That doesn't mean you can't ask a bunch of questions. They know you're managing it and they don't have to – they will love you for that.