Trent Poplar is the President and Co-Founder of Fifty Thousand Foot Inc.
Fifty Thousand Foot’s mission is to build a community of the best and brightest consultants, and provide them with the finest services to help their business prosper.
The website is meant for independent consultants and small to medium sized consulting firms, developed to help build their business, to maintain sustainability allowing them to stay consultants longer, to grow their network, and find better opportunities.
Trent has worked for nearly two decades as an independent, and within small to medium sized firms. He has completed dozens of large-scale projects, resulting in millions in savings and billions in revenue for clients. Trent’s clients have included: CIBC, BMO, Toronto Dominion Bank, Royal Bank of Canada, Manulife, HBC, Sears, Canadian Tire, Toronto Hydro and many others.
Trent Poplar took time out of his busy schedule to speak to My Business Magazine.
MBM: What niche does Fifty Thousand Foot fulfill?
TRENT POPLAR: There are few resources available to help consultants achieve their objectives. This is an under served group of small to medium businesses that have a real need for support and new business solutions.
One of the most rewarding aspects of starting up this new business is the vast number of times that I hear from members of how excited they are to have a community dedicated to helping them achieve their objectives.
MBM: What are the biggest challenges for independent and small firms in the market?
TRENT POPLAR: There are many challenges they will face, with many similarities to the challenges of other small businesses.
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 endeavor. 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 where 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.
MBM: What inspired you to start 50,000 Foot?
TRENT POPLAR: I was mentoring several new consultants on how they could get established as independents, as well as having various discussions with existing consultants in my network. The theme of these interactions was an absence of supportive business services specifically designed for my professional network.
Second, I was discussing with my brother Trevor, the Co-Founder of Fifty Thousand Foot, the challenges in running the administrative side of my business, as well as the lack of a specialized support. His experiences building business alliances added to my belief that that there was an opportunity to help others in a similar situation. Other professions and industries have built communities of practice. Trevor even helped in building these partnerships, but no private organizations were present to service my consulting community.
Recognizing these two gaps led to the concept for the business, and the research began to test feasibility.
MBM: What is your personal experience as a consultant?
TRENT POPLAR: It has been almost two decades since I took my first project while still in university. Organizing a nationwide repair program for a mid-sized manufacturer was a means of paying tuition, not my plan for the future. Yet after completing university, my first job was as a junior contributor at a Toronto-based consulting firm. The experience working at the consultancy along side many high-level consultants and brilliant young talented individuals really changed the direction of my career. I knew then that I could help my clients make meaningful changes and grow their businesses.
In 2006, I decided to become an independent consultant, providing organizational transformation services to my clients and sub-contracting with various consulting firms. I enjoyed the freedom of working for myself, finding new challenges and projects, and working with some truly amazing companies.
Over the last five years I have seen some big changes within the consulting industry. First, many individuals were becoming independent consultants like myself. Whether due to labour force pressures, such as robotic automation/AI, outsourcing or process optimizations, more professionals were seeking to head out on their own. This meant I was mentoring many new consultants, and seeing increased competition. Second, organizations are continually looking to increasing their percentages of contract and consulting hires to fill their labour needs, and my clients identified to me that they needed to search many avenues to find top talent. For example, on one of the last projects, over a two-year period I worked to deliver a project along side three large consulting houses, one medium sized firm and several independents, all on contract arrangements.
I realized that my journey in the consulting industry is becoming more common, and that I could utilize my experience and knowledge to help others built a career as a consultant.
MBM: How is Fifty Thousand Foot different than others in the market?
We are the first privately-run community of practice for the consulting community. We allow members to network, share ideas, find support and grow together. Another differentiation is that we are not inserting our organization between our members and their engagements. All our pricing is transaction based, not a portion of consulting revenues, breaking from the industry standards.
We are constantly growing and updating to get better, faster and more efficient. We are exploring and leveraging new technologies as well as improving our processes. All this, so that we can provide our members with exceptional value.
Additionally, we have a vetting process for new members; our team follows a validation process to ensure you are a consultant. This is to ensure the integrity of our site. As businesses and members use our site to find top talent, they will be assured that we have done our best to validate the trustworthiness of our members.
MBM: How can Fifty Thousand Foot take the consulting community from where they are today, and move them to a better place?
TRENT POPLAR: Our members will be able to grow and develop together in a community, built around their needs. They can network with like-minded professionals, and build stronger partnerships. They can find new opportunities and team up with each other, to go after opportunities that may not have been in reach before. They can share and licence their content, and find new and innovate ideas to enhance their client interactions. They will now have a place to market their skills to other members, using our site. They will get access to business services tailored to their needs, strengthened by a large membership base.
Businesses looking for statement of work or contract talent will have a trusted place to find specialized professionals.
MBM: What keeps you up at night?
TRENT 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 culture the relationships one needs to keep on projects.
In both of these instances, Fifty Thousand Foot is ready to help.