Trevor Poplar is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Fifty Thousand Foot Inc., a website that facilitates a link between independent consultants, consulting firms and businesses who want to work with each other.
50000Foot.com’s goal is supporting independent consultants in different stages of their career, be it a professional who has decided to go independent, individuals who want to network and grow within their communities, established brands, and retirees.
Also called “statement of work talent”, “contingent workforce” or “temporary talent”, independent consultants can come from a variety of industries, including finance, management consulting, HR management, change management, strategic consultant, project management, or IT.
Trevor has an extensive background in sales leadership and strategic partnerships. For seven years he worked for CIBC, providing Imperial Service clients with detailed financial advice. For 12 years he worked at ADP Canada, where he established the Financial Institution Partnership channel. He then moved to First Data as VP of Sales and Partnerships.
What inspired you to launch 50,000 Foot, and how do you differentiate yourselves?
Trevor Poplar: The inspirations behind the launch of 50,000 Foot was the experience of an independent consultant, co-founder Trent Poplar, a neglected business community growing each day, and my own history of building great partnerships. What differentiates us is we are designed to help grow our members’ business by providing solutions and service, but not designed to intersect in their contract financials.
What’s it like working with family? How do you solve your disagreements?
Trevor Poplar: My family working arrangement is unique, as my business partner is also my identical twin. We are physically similar, but our personalities are somewhat opposite. This creates a great environment because there is a balanced micro and macro approach, good communication, and a longstanding trust. Disagreements are resolved based on a deep understanding of each others’ strengths and pre-established roles and responsibilities that were set up at the creation of the venture.
An example of an unexpected problem you faced, and how you overcame it?
Trevor Poplar: One unexpected problem we faced was somewhat aggressive skepticism of our business intentions. Many prospects did not believe we intended to exclude ourselves from the financial part of their opportunities, despite our stated value proposition.
Past experiences with businesses designed to be “middle men” must have contributed to this disbelief. We are still overcoming this issue with better, more crafted messaging, and changing our sales approach depending on the prospects’ business stage and size. As we grow, our members will provide great support of our platform and advocate on our behalf.
What are the biggest challenges for independent and small firms in the market?
Trevor Poplar: The most obvious challenge is finding and competing to win new projects. You often spend a high degree of effort to meet with the right executives who can award you a project, only to find out that other firms are knocking on the same doors. Differentiating yourself, and having a brand that businesses recognize, is a tough endeavour. You are often judged on success of your last project.
Managing your time is also a big challenge. The success of a consulting business is ensuring you are maximizing your time on project and minimizing time on administrative tasks. All this doesn’t even take into consideration ensuring a good work-life balance.
Finally, ensuring that you run your business cost effectively. There can be many unforeseen costs of running a small consulting business. I found over the last few years costs for important services were steadily rising, such as legal and insurance. To get contracts with large companies, there often is a large amount of risk you must take on personally, and that often comes with a cost.
You mentioned family/work balance, so what’s your advice in that category?
Trevor Poplar: My tip is time allocation and scheduling. Construct a weekly calendar that organizes your work and personal time and try your best to adhere to that schedule. Also note that you do not have to follow the traditional models; work or family time can happen as you see fit.
What keeps you up at night?
Trevor Poplar: Getting Fifty Thousand Foot ready to help North American companies to deal with the coming war on talent. Many companies are feeling the strain of not being able to find qualified talent to fill their requirements. USA Today reported on August 8 that open jobs in the US outnumbers unemployment for the third straight month. Canada has a similar outlook. Consultants, contractors and freelancers will be well positioned to take advantage of these gaps in the labour force.
The other item I have been thinking about a lot is how the sales cycle in the industry is evolving. More competition and a changing market leave less time to grooms the relationships one needs to keep on projects.