Buy Lunch for a Vendor…

Want some quick insight and exposure into a market? Offer to buy a vendor lunch. After all, they spend their lives out in the marketplace.

This is particularly effective in niche markets. You have identified your potential niches, right? If not, review this post.

A new consulting colleague in Phoenix did this with good success.

Upon hanging out his shingle, he took a local sales engineer to lunch to pick his brain about the market. In return, he offered to help the sales engineer with technical support (gratis.)

It was, and is, a win-win situation. As the old saying goes, one hand washes the other.

On a personal note, I had that happen to me as a new sales engineer.

When a customer called about lunch, I figured I was going to hear about our delivery problems. It had been a hard slog and some of his key projects were in jeopardy.

I planned to buy lunch.

But instead, he insisted on buying lunch. Then he and his boss thanked me for my efforts on their behalf. What a pleasant surprise!

As a result, guess who got very fast response to future questions and concerns? We all like to be appreciated.

 So treat vendors and sales people in your market with respect. And if you get the chance, offer to buy lunch!

P.S. Know someone who might benefit from JumpToConsulting?  Please forward a link.  Thanks!

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Small town living – a path to financial independence?

Here is a reply I left recently at my favorite financial blog, Mr. Money Mustache.  Pete, a fellow engineer, spent the last several years challenging and cajoling people to become financially independent.

He “retired” at age 30, and now does what he wants with no financial worries. Lives a nice lifestyle in nice digs, too.

His formula is simple — cut consumption and increase savings. When your income from investments equals your expenses — viola — you are now financially independent. He did it in seven years, and you can too.

So what does this have to do with consulting? You don’t need to be fully financially independent to make your JumpToConsulting, but you DO need some reserves. Assume at least six months with no income.

So if you are overconsuming and living pay check to pay check. you can’t make a JumpToConsulting, or any other jump. You first need to cut your expenses and change your mindset and your lifestyle!

One way to do this is to move to a small town. That is what my older son (the inspiration for this blog) did this year. Here is his story:

Don’t overlook small towns – particularly those about 100-150 miles from a major city.

After living in the city, my older son recently moved to a small town in Minnesota – population 5000. About 100 miles from Minneapolis, it is beyond commuting distance so it is no longer a suburb. But it still close enough for city resources (hospitals etc.) or a big city “fix” if needed.

They bought a nice house for 1/2 the cost in the city. The grade school and a park are across the street, and the high school is a few blocks away. The kids love it – they can bike all over town with their new friends. His commute is under ten minutes of country driving. His wife works in the high school as a teacher’s aide, and loves it.

They were concerned about leaving the city, but have been pleasantly surprised. Small town festivals –wineries — microbreweries — parks with uncrowded campgrounds. It may be rural, but there is still plenty to do. And the big city is still only two hours away.

Looking for a job change, he stumbled – almost by accident – on an executive opportunity with a small medical manufacturer. The company was delighted to get someone with his talent and experience, and they pay him accordingly. The school was delighted to hire his wife too. Big city wages with small town cost of living — how great is that? Plus the quality of life.

These opportunities abound, but you must seek them out. So if you are not yet financially independent, consider this as one way to speed things up — and enjoy the journey immediately. My son admits he never dreamed they would live like this.

A few more details on my son. After taking a company through a complex acquisition, he no longer had a job. Small thanks for helping grow the firm by 10x in a couple of years as their financial guru.

So he took his MBA in finance, his experience, and his proceeds and hung out his shingle as a consultant. The early discussions with him were the catalyst for this blog.

Although he was building the business, it was going slower than hoped. When one of his clients make him an offer he couldn’t refuse as the VP of Finance for a start-up, he jumped at it. Besides, like his dad, he has a love of small business.

But after a couple of years, it became obvious the start-up was stalling. Furthermore, there was friction with the founder, who was unwilling or unable to make necessary changes. (Been there myself.) So rather than wait for the axe to fall, he started a job search.

One interesting opportunity was with a medical device manufacturer in a rural community. As both he and his wife grew up in the city, there was some reluctance to purse it. Still, the job sounded interesting, so they decided to go in a new direction. So far, so good.

I’m proud of my son for taking that chance, and for working hard, like a good consultant, to make a positive impact on the world.

I’m also proud of his brother. A financial attorney in a large Manhattan firm, he recently took a chance and initiated a special project on alternate currencies. As their “Bitcoin-guru”, he too is working very hard to make a positive impact on the world.

Well done, both of you!

P.S. Thanks to the Internet and Fed-X, one can easily consult from small towns. And depending on your niche, you may even find plenty of clients right in you own backyard. 

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Thought Leadership – Is is really necessary?

The short answer — NO! 

But you DO need to be able to help your clients. Time for a mini-rant.

If you are like me, you are probably weary of hearing about how you MUST become a though leader to succeed in business. Unless, of course, you are pitching books or programs on thought leadership.

But let’s back up. Just what is thought leadership, anyway? Wikipedia says a thought leader is “an individual or firm recognized as an authority in a specialized field, and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.” Gee – that sounds like a consultant to me.

My big concern is the concept may hold people back. As in, “If I’m not a thought leader, how can I break into consulting?” Don’t let this business jargon bamboozle you.

Think about it. You doctor has specialized expertise that can help you. But do most doctors consider themselves thought leaders? I doubt it. Most just consider themselves professionals doing their jobs — helping their patients.

Now some doctors, such as specialists, may be considered thought leaders. When my wife had an unusual kidney condition, we consulted with one of the world’s experts at the Mayo Clinic. He fit my definition of a thought leader. Even then, he was modest to a fault. (Incidentally, he quickly diagnosed the issue, while ruling out any serious problems.)

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to and becoming a thought leader. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and you DON’T need it to get started as a consultant.

You DO need to identify your niches, and you DO need to be competent and experienced in those niches. In certain areas, you may need to be licensed.

OK, so I don’t need to be a thought leader to start, but how can I eventually become one anyway? Writing and speaking are two good avenues.

Magazine articles and white papers are a good start. A book is even better, preferably published by recognized publisher.

Speeches and seminars also good avenues. All these take time, however, so don’t expect to be vaulted overnight into a thought leadership position.

But don’t overlook just doing a good job for your clients. Experience is a big part of becoming a thought leader, and the only way to get experience is to  DO it — over and over.

Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to really master a subject. Some pundits dispute the numbers, but the fact is it takes time and effort to become an expert – or a thought leader.

As an example, we started Kimmel Gerke Associates almost 30 years ago as a couple of reasonably competent engineers. To market ourselves, we started writing magazine articles and doing technical presentations. At that time, we did not consider ourselves though leaders.

Over time, this eventually led to 200+ articles, three books, hundreds of consultations, and training 10,000+ students through public and in-house seminars.

At some point, I suppose, we became thought leaders in our field – not that it really mattered to either of us anyway. But that came later, not right away.

NO, you don’t need to be a “thought leader” to make your JumpToConsulting. But the sooner you do make the jump, the the sooner you can become a thought leader – if that is even your goal in the first place.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Should you take equity in lieu of cash?

Here is a reply to a post by Michael Zipursky over at Consulting Success, where Michael discusses the pros and cons (mostly cons) of accepting equity or shares as payment for services.

Either way, both Michael and I do NOT recommend this. 

I completely agree! Never took stock, nor did I ever agree to work for free on proposals, with the idea that I would get the business if the company won the project (sometimes suggested by defense contractors.)

If asked, I simply explain that I’m too small to carry anyone for free. Better to pursue paying jobs than to lose opportunities being tied up with freebies. Besides, if they really need you they will find the money.

While I have a soft spot in my heart (or maybe my head) for startups, I’ve avoided them and pursued Fortune 1000 clients instead. Even then I’ve been burned (bankruptcies), but only twice in 28 years. Great post!

As a new consultant, you will run into this sooner or later, particularly with smaller firms. Some are strapped for cash — probably not good clients anyway. Others may be testing you — assuming you are hungry for business.

Neither are a good deal. Better to focus your time on real paying prospects.

Remember, you are a professional, just like your dentist or doctor. Very doubtful they would go for this either.


Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

What do you do when it no longer works?

Received an email a while back from a fellow engineer whose consulting firm is struggling. The question was what to do now?

First, a little background. To protect privacy, I’ll be purposefully vague.

He started a consulting firm some years ago, but it recently began to slide. Rather than give up, he kept putting money into the business – but with a negative impact on his finances and retirement. Cash flow is now a key concern.

So the question posed to me was not about starting a consulting practice, but rather –  What do you do when it no longer works?

That is a tough one. Here is my sanitized reply:

Wish I could say I had never heard your story before. Sadly, I have. The good news is things usually get better, but not without some pain.

Here are three examples:

  • Former neighbors (in their 50s) who owned two small restaurants for many years. When the business slump hit in 2008, they refinanced their house to keep things going. In the process, they lost the businesses and almost lost the house. But they are now recovering, as they went back into the corporate world. The good news is that they found jobs where they could use their valuable skills and knowledge.
  • My older son (in his 40s) who was ousted from his position (after an acquisition.) Small thanks for helping grow a small company by 10X and handling the complex financial details of the transaction. So he took his proceeds and hung out his shingle as a business consultant, but within a year it was obvious it wasn’t working fast enough to provide an adequate income. The good news was that one of his clients (a start-up) hired him.
  • Me (in my 30s). Fired one day from a start-up I helped launch, I hung out my shingle. That only lasted a couple of months until I realized it wasn’t going to work – for now anyway.  So I went to “Plan B” and found another corporate engineering job. Of course, that was easier then as I was much younger.

Two common thread on all three cases were:

  • Recognizing the business was not making it (at least fast enough to provide sustenance)
  • Changing direction (while still gaining valuable experience and knowledge.)

My first thought is to see if any firms have an interest in hiring, even on a part-time or sub-contract basis. These firms might be other consulting firms, past/present clients, or even vendors serving  his technical community.

Your knowledge, contacts and experience are valuable. This would let you focus on the technical side of the business and not worry about the sales/marketing/management side of the business.

A second thought is to check with technical contracting firms. Some are small, and some are large (like Manpower.) I know several engineering colleagues who have gone this route.

One caveat – do NOT pay anybody ANY money up front. The legitimate firms make their money when they place engineers with their clients. Many also offer group insurance and related benefits.

In both cases, the business still exists – just in a different form.  Incidentally, nothing wrong with changing directions. Sometimes it is better to stop the bleeding, and start the recovery.

As a fellow boomer, these approaches are likely more successful than seeking a full time position. Many companies want to hire the younger people full-time, but are willing to take on us old-timers part-time. Of course, if you find a suitable full-time position, go for it!

My sincere best wishes, and feel free to write again if you have additional questions or comments.

If you are in this situation, don’t despair — it took me two tries to make it as a consultant, and four tries for the training part of our business. And there have been several ups and downs along the way.

Finally, there are no guarantees for success in any business, consulting or otherwise. Change is inevitable, and the key is to be flexible.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Are you seeking freedom… or power?

This dilemma is often faced by those considering a business of their own –– often at mid-career. Should I strike out on my own, or should I stay and climb the corporate ladder?

There is no right answer. You must first seek to know yourself. It is YOUR decision — nobody else can make it for you. NOT your family-NOT your friends-NOT your colleagues.

Either way, there is a price to be paid. Both paths require time and effort — often much more than you realize. Both may result in different levels of compensation… different levels of family time… different levels of overall life satisfaction. Consider the tradeoffs.

In my case, I chose freedom through consulting, with no regrets. At the same time, I’ve had colleagues who chose corporate power with success. No regrets there either. I’ll share specific examples later. But first, a short story…

In ancient China, two brothers went separate ways. One became a monk, and the other became a civil servant.

Many years later they met in the market where the monk was eating his bowl of rice as he sat on the ground.

Said the now successful civil servant to the monk, “If you had learned to bow to the king, you would no longer need to eat rice.”

To which the monk replied, “If you had learned to eat rice, you would no longer need to bow to the king.”

Here are three modern examples…

(1) One colleague chose the corporate route. He worked hard and eventually rose to the level of VP. Along the way, he made significant contributions to the company, and was amply rewarded. He recently retired, and now engages in philanthropy and angel investing.

(2) Another colleague chose the freedom route. After becoming increasingly disillusioned with big corporate life, he founded a small but very successful company. He is still running the company, and is having a blast.

(3) A college classmate was rising fast on the corporate route, but it didn’t really fit. One night he awoke spitting up blood from an ulcer. The stress of being a square peg in a round hole finally caught up with him. Fortunately, his enlightened company let him take a step back, and he finished his career developing several successful products while mentoring numerous young engineers.

Three stories, three happy endings…

And in the third case, nothing wrong or disgraceful with making a change. Had his company been less enlightened, he might well have succeeded with another company, or even as a consultant. (He did moonlight for a while to feed his passion to create rather than manage.)

Incidentally, all three made these decisions (as I did) at about age 40. The late Howard Shenson once noted this is a good age for a mid-career assessment. By that time, you have enough experience to know what you like (and are good at) and what you dislike (and perhaps are not so good at.)

The secret, Shenson said, is to focus on the former and ignore the latter. Unfortunately, many people miss this opportunity for change, and spend the rest of their lives in misery.

This post was prompted by a recent discussion.  I hope this helps if YOU are facing this dilemma. If you opt for freedom, consulting is but one option. It has been great for me!

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Solo or not? Food for thought…

This post was inspired by Alan Weiss’s Monday Morning Memo (R), to which I have subscribed for many years. He succinctly addresses some pros and cons of going solo.

Dr. Weiss is a leading advisor to consultants. While his focus is on management consulting, much of his advice also applies to technical consulting. *

One of the major differences I’ve seen in people’s choices of careers, often unconscious and unspoken, is affiliation needs. If you don’t need people around you, a solo career suits you fine.

But if you do, it can be enervating to work alone. I can work with people but I certainly don’t require it, and I’d see employees as just so many “baby chicks” to be fed constantly. However, some people derive ideas and strength from working amidst others, and don’t mind investing in a staff that can help grow the business.

I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs dragged under by the weight on nonproductive staff. Pay a salary to those who grow your business, not those who nest in your business. You’re running a company, not an employment agency.

— Monday Morning Memo 7/20/2015

I’ve seen the same myself. Should I go solo, find a partner, or grow the firm?

In my case, I started with a business partner. Most of the time, I advise against partnerships, as I have seen too many go bad. But when they work, the can be great — just like a good marriage. (47 years here…)

But even then, we acted semi-solo. We maintained separate companies for ourselves (payroll, invoicing, retirement funding) and shared a common company for common expenses and income. The goal was to be able to act independently if needed. And while not intended, it certainly simplified things when Bill recently passed away.

We did consider growth once, but only briefly. Business was booming, and we were subcontracting excess work. Not wishing to market or sell themselves, some of those subcontractors inquired about becoming employees.

But we quickly decided against it. Like Dr.Weiss, we were concerned with the need to feed the “baby chicks.” Besides, we figured they would get to do the fun stuff, while we’d be left with all the management tasks and headaches.

So we kept it semi-solo, and I’m glad we did. Perhaps we could have made more money — or perhaps lost it. It doesn’t matter, as we made enough and had a good time doing so.

But either way is fine – you need to decide what is best for you – even if it means climbing back into a corporate job. Saw that happen several years ago with an engineering colleague and friend who started a technical marketing consulting practice.

Thanks to his own creative marketing efforts, he soon developed a thriving practice. But then he abandoned it after about a year. He missed the camaraderie of working with other creative colleagues.

So he rejoined corporate America, and is happy with his decision. But he also now knows that if he ever wants or needs to go solo again, he can do it.

As for me, I’m now completely solo, and plan to stay that way!

* Click here for more info on Dr. Alan Weiss. Books, workshops, newsletters, and more.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Now What???

The first half of this year has been rough. It started out with plans to move back to our old house, followed by Mary breaking her arm which required surgery. Two weeks later, my good friend and business partner (Bill Kimmel) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

All this happened in January!

It was painful watching Bill sink, but it happened (too) quickly, and he passed away in April. The funeral was in early May, followed by the sudden loss of a cousin two weeks later. In the middle of all this, the remodeling was finally done and we moved.

Like January, May was a month I don’t care to relive.

For the past six weeks, I’ve been tying up loose ends with Bill’s part of Kimmel Gerke Associates (aka EMIGURU.) At the same time, I’ve been reflecting on what I want to do next. These past six months have been a grim reminder that time is not infinite.

So here are my current plans.

I plan to ramp down EMIGURU –ramp up JUMPTOCONSULTING — and simply slow down and enjoy life. So if you are interested in consulting, stick around as I get back on schedule with this blog and related projects.

EMIGURU – While my goal is to decrease the consulting, I plan to stay involved with the training side of the practice. I enjoy training, and it also gives the most bang for the buck for helping others. More effective to work with 10-20 at a time than just 1-2 at a time.

Efforts are underway to hand off consulting projects to a select group of consulting colleagues. The objectives are to support our clients, while helping some of the younger folks in our business.

Several technical courses are currently on the books. My goal is to limit classes to no more than one a month, a reduction from past schedules. Just got back from a class last week, and have classes scheduled through September. We’ll see how it works out.

JUMPTOCONSULTING – The goals here are to post at least twice a month, and to start developing an on-line class. An introductory e-book is also on the wish list, along with some magazine articles on consulting.

Still considering the book I’ve always promised myself to write. After a couple of technical books, I don’t need it for the ego boost, but it would be fun to do. So it stays on the to-do list for now.

PERSONAL – The goals here are to goof off more and enjoy life. Thanks to the consulting business, I’m financially independent and no longer need to work.

Not bragging — just grateful that I made the JumpToConsulting when I did. With time and effort, you can achieve this independence too.

So stay tuned, as I share more thoughts, ideas, and examples of how to make your own JumpToConsulting.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

The sad ordeal is over…

Last Wednesday, my good friend and business partner of 40 years passed away from pancreatic cancer. The end came sooner than expected, but at least he is no longer suffering. I will miss him terribly … hell, I already do!

A future blog post will address partnerships. Most of the time I advise against them, as I have seen too many go sour. But when they work, they are absolutely wonderful.

Such was our partnership, and a major reason our consulting firm was so successful.   And so much fun!

Although many of you didn’t know him, here is the eulogy I plan to deliver at his funeral this week. I think it captures the essence of this gentle man.

William “Bill” Kimmel, PE
Kimmel Gerke Associates, Ltd.
Consulting Engineers

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Daryl Gerke, Bill’s friend and business partner for almost 40 years.

When Bill’s daughter asked me to say a few words, I told her it would be a privilege. But when she told me I only had about five minutes, I knew it would be a huge challenge.

You see, I could go on for hours with wonderful stories about Bill… and given the opportunity, probably would. Those of you who do know me know that’s true.

As an aside, Bill and I spent many pleasant hours telling, and then retelling stories… often to the chagrin of our wives. I will miss that.

So what can I say in just a few minutes? As I reflected on this, I was finally able to distill it down to three key points I’d like to share today.

(1) Bill was highly respected

The highest accolade an engineer can give to another engineer is to say, “So and so is a good engineer.” Sometimes for emphasis, one is called a “darn good engineer.” We engineers are such an emotional bunch.

As the emails and phone calls poured in after the news of Bill’s passing, those phrases were repeated many times. Often with examples of how Bill had jumped in to difficult situations… helped out… and even saved their bacon.

Past students lauded his abilities to take complex concepts and make them easy to understand.

Of course, I agree with those sentiments… Working together for 40 years, I know of no better practitioner of the engineering profession.

(2) Bill was extremely gracious

In a business where giant egos sometimes reign, Bill was modest to a fault. When I shared a comment with him several weeks ago that someone had called  him a “rock star”, he chuckled and replied, “Gee,  I just thought I was doing my job.” … Classic Bill.

Bill also willingly shared what he knew. Not only with clients, but with colleagues and even complete strangers.

An e-mail from a professor in the UK told how, in the middle of his battle with cancer, he took the time to discuss the impact of some new standards. It was much appreciated… He was literally known around the world.

A phone call from a vendor told how he took the time at a trade show last fall to talk with the woman’s son about a career in engineering, and how much it meant to both of them… She had only met Bill earlier that day.

(3) Bill was a friend to ALL

I’m biased, of course… What started out as a couple of young engineers collaborating on some moonlighting projects blossomed into a friendship that lasted almost 40 years… Personally, I can think of nobody else who would have been a better friend and a better business partner.

He also leaves behind a multitude of friends in our engineering community… The many emails and phone calls in the past week have constantly expressed this sentiment… About what a good friend he had been, and how much he will be missed.

In closing, I’d like to share one particularly eloquent e-mail I received from one of those friends just after Bill’s passing.

I’m not much of a reader, but one time my Rabbi lent me a book to read. It was by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, the author of “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People”. I never finished it, but I remember one passage:

As most clergy do, the Rabbi liked to learn about other faiths. He was at some kind of convention or conference, and he heard the Buddhists talking about how you shouldn’t get attached to anyone, because you would only lose them eventually…

Rabbi Kushner disagreed… He said that isn’t living… Rather, we should allow ourselves to love people even though it will be painful when we lose them… That is living.

So I’m doing a little living right now, over Bill.  (Thanks – Jeff Silberberg)

Right now, I think we are ALL doing a little living over Bill… REST IN PEACE, my friend!

Click here to see Bill’s on-line obituary.

P.S. Changes are coming, so check in from time to time. Initial plans are to ramp up JumpToConsulting, and to ramp down Kimmel Gerke Associates. And to spend more time just goofing off – grandkids, reading, writing, traveling, and playing with the dog.

The goal here – helping “newbies” become consultants, and helping “oldies” become better consultants. Like the underlying goal Bill and I always had with our consulting practice – helping engineers become even better engineers!

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

An update on the sad news…

In February I shared the sad news that Bill Kimmel, my business partner and good friend of almost 40 years, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That is the main reason the posts here have been few and far between. Here is an update.

It has been a rough few months. The chemo failed, but it did make him sick. As a result, he ended up in the hospital for a week with complications. This led to hospice care at home which was working  pretty well.

During that time I flew to MN for some visits. We tied up some loose business ends, reminisced, and even laughed a bit as we relived our past consulting adventures (and a few misadventures…)

We decided our business had accomplished the three objectives we had for any project — do some good, have some fun, make some money.

  • We’ve solved or prevented hundreds of EMI (electromagnetic interference) problems in a wide range of industries – computers, medical devices, defense (space craft to submarines), vehicles (planes, trains, automobiles – even fire trucks), industrial controls, facilities (including nuclear power plants & oil refineries), and more.
  • We’ve trained over 10,000 designers through our public and in-house classes – immensely satisfying in itself.
  • We had a great time visiting almost every state and several foreign countries – and we made many friends along the way.
  • We both ended up financially set for retirement – even though we’ve remained involved with our little consulting business.

The bottom line — no regrets. Looking back, it has been so much more interesting and satisfying than had we stayed with corporate careers.

While consulting is not for everyone, for us it has been simply great! It is also what keeps me going with the blog — the hope that others may be inspired to do the same.

Last week things took a turn for the worse. Having balance problems, Bill moved to a full care facility as his wife could no longer care for him at home. They had agreed on such a move ahead of time.

Nevertheless it has not been easy for anyone — Bill, his family, his friends, nor his business partner. But for now, he is hanging in there.

The response from our friends/clients/colleagues has been most gratifying. That is a good measure of business success – how much you and your work have been appreciated. I’m sincerely thankful to everyone who has expressed their kind thoughts to both of us.

In closing, my Dad had a sign in his workshop that said “Live, so that when you die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”  As a kid, I found it a little spooky, but at this point in my life and career I fully appreciate the sentiment.

And don’t wait to start living your dream. Later, you want to be able to look back and smile as we are now doing — and perhaps even laugh a bit! 

P.S. ATTN Friends/Clients/Colleagues Contact Bill at Due to low energy, he may not reply, but rest assured he enjoys hearing from you. 

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

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