Happy Halloween…

No moral or message – just an update for the last day of October.

Got back last night from a three week RV trip. MN (where there are grankids) to AZ (where there is no snow) via CT (where there are more grankids.) The trip included drives through the Shenandoah Parkway, the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Natchez Trace. The fall foliage was beautiful!

A major advantage of independent consulting is that you control your schedule. If you want to take some time off, you don’t need to ask your boss. After all, YOU are the boss.

Of course, the downside is that when you are not working, you are not billing. But there is more to life than merely making money. Real wealth is discretionary time -  and for the past several weeks I spent my discretionary time simply having a lot of fun.

But all play and no work is not good either. So after taking some time off,  it is now back into the saddle with more stuff to follow at JumpToConsulting. Stay tuned…

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

What Next???

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve noticed a lack of posts this summer. Don’t worry — not quitting — just needed some time to regroup.

A key catalyst was two recent funerals. Not to sound morbid, but these events have a way of causing one to reflect on where one has been, and where one wants to go next. They are also not so subtle reminders that time is limited, and life needs to be lived now!

The first funeral was an old college friend, and the second was a relative. Both wonderful people who left us way too soon. Sadly, both had delayed retirement plans until is was too late. Thus, the cause for reflection.

So what next? Here are some plans – subject to change, of course.

- Keep blogging at JumpToConsulting. I have at least another 100 ideas for posts, including a  series on selling consulting services, patterned after the recent series on generating leads.

- Wind down the engineering consulting practice.
This has been happening anyway — if you don’t continually market, that is the result.

But that’s OK. I plan to stay involved with the training side of the business, which I really enjoy. (My business partner remains active with both the consulting and the training.)

- Develop the on-line classes I’ve been promising, along with the book. Focused on how to start/build/maintain a small professional consulting practice, just as I did 30+ years ago.

Aimed at those who are highly interested in consulting as a possible business/lifestyle, with an emphasis on geeks & geezers (technical professionals and/or boomers over 40) – my own personal demographics.

- Increase leisure travel. Two years ago we bought a small RV, which has been great fun. The plan is for more RV fun – both short trips and some extended trips. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even start a travel blog.

- Simply enjoy retirement. Yes, I finally admit I’m retired – or at least 90% retired (hard to shut down 100% when you started the business.) But JumpToConsulting remains a primary retirement project, so it is not going away. See On Becoming and OLD Warrior.

So thank you to my readers! It is a small group in a pretty tight niche, but it has been fun to interact with so many of you.

Finally, please write or comment if you have specific question about the wacky world of consulting!

P.S. – After 30 years, we just got a pooch again. Several years old, she came from a pet rescue. What a sweetheart, and a definite enhancement to our lives and to our retirement.

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Still on a summer break…

After almost four years of blogging about consulting, the summer break was needed and welcome.

Still involved with this project, however, as I’ve had the pleasure to work with a couple of readers on a one-on-one basis.  It is fun to share the enthusiasm, and very satisfying to see the progress. It also has me rethinking where to go next — so stay tuned.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of the summer – we’ll be back soon.

P.S. Please let me know if you have specific questions/topics to address.

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Taking a summer break…

No, I haven’t forgotten about this blog and those of you who follow it.

Just needed some down time to recharge. Doing some travel, reading some books, and spending some quality time with family/grandkids.

I’ll be back — hope you are having a good summer too!

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

A Success Story – Bill Schweber (PE) – Engineer/Author/Editor

Bill Schweber is a fellow member of the Laid-Off-Twice club. When it happened the second time two years ago, he decided to hang out his shingle and has been having a ball ever since.

Bill is an Electrical Engineer who specializes in technical communications. His quick success is no surprise. Engineers who can communicate effectively are special and in high demand. Consultants often thrive at the intersection of diverse skill sets.

Bill has written three text books, hundreds of technical articles, opinion columns, and product features. He was an editor for EDN (a leading trade magazine for EEs) and in marketing communications for Analog Devices (a leading vendor of analog and mixed signal ICs.) And much more, including analog and power electronics design.

As such, he had immediate visibility and credibility in the technical community.

I’ve know Bill for many years–it gives me great pleasure to share his success story here!

(1) What prompted you to consider consulting (running your own business?) Was there an event, like a layoff, or was it just the itch to be on your own?

It was a combination of things: a layoff was the trigger, but I had become increasingly disillusioned and even cynical with all the corporate craziness, politics, constant changes in strategies and inexplicable rationales for each, and had a real desire to have more control–for better and worse–of my time and energy.

(2) How has it been going? Looks like you’ve been at it a while, so obviously you are established in your business.

Full-time writer about engineering advances, trends, products, and technical engineering topics since June 2012, and it’s been going well, I’m keeping busy full-time and with a solid queue of both first-time and follow-on projects.

(3) What do you like MOST about consulting (your own business?)

Ability to set my own priorities, with flexibility that suits my needs.

(4) What do you like LEAST about consulting (your own business?)

The usual complaint: the lag between starting a project, completing it, and getting paid!

(5) How do you get your clients? (BTW, the number one question I get asked when someone finds out I’m a consultant.)

I was a visible and reasonably well-known editor for many years at major trade publications, and had met many key players in person, so I was known by, or known to, many in the industry.

So I contacted many of them and said I was available, and that started things rolling. I also get a lot of referrals from clients to people they know and need help, as well as sales/marketing people who have customers who need help.

(6) How do you set your fees? (Second question I get asked.)

Usually I estimate using a fixed rate per word, but charging less if it is a re-write or there is a lot of good collateral available, and more if there is a lot of research needed. Or, I establish a fee for the project, based on how long I think it will take.

I rarely charge by the hour, it’s too awkward and leads to bad feelings (they think you are acting like a lawyer, stretching things out). But I have an internal per-hour rate I like each project to bring in, to justify if it is worth my time.

(7) How did you decide what to consult about (or focus on?) And why? (Third question I get asked.)

I focus on the fact that I am an engineer who really understands what the client is talking about; I am not just repeating the words to them. When they talk technical, I understand and can ask solid questions.

When I interview technical people at the client to get the information I need, I emphasize two things:

(a) this is not a “60 Minutes” ambush interview or hatchet job, and

(b) I am a real engineer with solid hands-on experience and broad expertise, not just a “science writer” or, worse yet, a journalist who talks smoothly and spells the words right, but doesn’t really understand the subject, the technical terms, the underlying issues.

This usually brings a major sigh of relief and minimizes the fear factor as well as their concern that I will not grasp the key points or get them wrong.

I also tell people that I spent 8 years in high-tech marketing, so I understand how to frame the result but also to ask the tough key questions up front:

-What is the story or product here?

-Who is the target for the resulting story (such as editors, end users, trade show audience, investors, co-workers)?

-Why would they be interested in reading it?

-What’s the audience’s background on this?

-And finally, the key questions: what’s significant about what you have, anyway? What do you bring to the party that’s new, noteworthy, or different?

(8) Lessons learned since you started consulting?

Most projects are hurry-up-and wait, then they move to crisis “we need it now” mode.

(9) What next? Do you plan to do this the rest of your career (like I did?) Or is this a stepping stone to other things?

I plan to do this until I no longer can. I’d be a fool not to!

(10) Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to our fellow engineers who might be thinking about consulting (or going out on their own?)

Contact people who know and respect what you’ve done, tell them you are available if they need help, and ask them to let others know, as well.

Then deliver a quality, thorough, wrapped-up project with no loose strings, and do it on time or even ahead of deadline.

Bill Schweber, PE — Jaffa Engineering — schweber (at) att (dot) net

P.S. Been a bit sparse on posting of late. Took some vacation time, but now getting back into the groove. Thanks for riding along!

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Consulting Secrets…

Just ran across this web site, and wanted to share. LOTS of wisdom here!

Been a bit busy here this month, but expect to soon get back in the groove. In the meantime, hope you enjoy the link.

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

From the mailbag…Book recommendations

Just received this query from India. Wow — we have an international following!

But as I’ve noted here before, consulting is both international and location independent. Assuming others might find this useful, I’m sharing it here.

Hi,

Your website is highly informative.

I ask you a question because you have real time experience as an independent consultant.

I am a full time programmer from India . I have 15 years of software development experience. Do you recommend any book on consulting?

I want to read before implementing steps to become independent consultant.

What about Business Consulting Buzz by Michael Zipursky? You mentioned it.

Here is my reply:

Hi,

Thank you for the kind comments on my blog!

My favorite author on consulting is Howard Shenson. Here are links to two of his books that I like and recommend:

(1) Complete Guide to Consulting Success

(2) Shenson on Consulting – Success Strategies

Here is a link on JumpToConsulting regarding Shenson.

For many years, Shenson conducted short seminars on consulting. I attended one in 1978, and it started me on my consulting journey.

He published many books, so anything else by Shenson is worth reading.  Sadly, he died at a relatively young age in 1991. Otherwise I’m sure he would still be writing and teaching today.

His materials are very practical, with an emphasis on marketing (getting the business.)  Much of my materials are patterned after Shenson, so if you like my blog, you will like his books too.

I’ve also found Michael Zipursky’s website to be useful. His focus is on business (management) consulting rather than technical consulting. I’ve not read his book, but I’m sure it has useful ideas too.

With fifteen years experience, you certainly have the necessary technical experience. (When I went full time, I had nineteen years experience.)

But the technical experience alone is not enough — you must start thinking like a business person.

This is where many technical people fail when starting a consulting practice. They focus on the technology rather than running a business.

Probably the biggest business challenge is marketing/sales — attracting the business and then booking it!

All the other business issues – legal, accounting, contracts, etc. are easy and can be done in a few weeks. But the marketing never ends — you must continually dedicate some time to these efforts.

I’ve always considered marketing as just another technical challenge, with a new set of skills to master. It can be done, but it does require some work and study.  Shenson can help (as I hope my blog can too.)

Hope this has helped, and good luck as you make your own JumpToConsulting!

Thanks for writing! Drop me a line if YOU have a question. (We’ll protect your privacy if we use your question/answer as a post.)

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

On Becoming and OLD Warrior…

Not sure when it happened — or when I even first realized it had happened.

But one day I woke up and recognized that I was no longer a young warrior, but rather had become an old warrior.

So what’s the difference? And does it matter?

Well, the old warrior’s main purpose is to now teach the young warriors – sharing the experience and knowledge with those who would receive it. Just as an earlier generation of old warriors graciously shared with him or her.

  • The old warrior no longer runs as fast as the young warriors. But thanks to years of experience, the old warrior often knows how to better sharpen the spears.
  • The old warrior also understands when to move forward, and when to hold back. Better to conserve your strength and energy, and to pick and choose the battles you can win. Or at least have a reasonable chance of winning.
  • The old warrior’s offerings will not always be accepted, but those who do so will likely be enriched. Sadly, the hubris of youth can get in the way of the wisdom of the elders. Often with disastrous results.

So, if you are an old warrior, don’t despair about your age or physical frailties. Rather, relish your  achievements. Now is the time to share your wisdom and knowledge with a new generation of young warriors.

And if you are a young warrior, seek out old warriors who can show you paths to success. And remember, someday you too will become an old warrior. Probably sooner than you think!

P.S. The late Howard Shenson observed that around 35-40 was a good age to start consulting. By that time one had figured out what they liked and what they didn’t like — and what they were good at and what they were not so good at.

The secret, he said, is to focus on the former, and disregard the latter. As a result, many independent consultants are old warriors — or at least middle-aged warriors :-)      

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Seven Steps in Selling…

The lead generation worked… the phone rings… now what?

Let the sales process begin… This is where the rubber meets the road — or where the consultant finally meets the client. Many people see sales as mysterious at best, and manipulative at worst. Neither are true for selling consulting services.

Consulting is a helping profession…

You’re not peddling products, or trying to meet a quota. You’re not manipulating, or being sleazy. Rather, you are simply trying to help your clients.

Like a doctor, you are solving problems. Or like an architect, you are turning dreams into reality. Either way, your helping improve your client’s life!

Looking at it this way makes it worthwhile, right?

Sales is a process…

If you’ve never been in sales, it may seem mysterious – even scary at times. But you can learn to sell– just as you can learn to paint, play a musical instrument, or write software.

Once you understand the process and the underlying principles, it all starts to make sense. It’s simply not a big deal. So don’t let the fear of learning a new skill stop you. And once learned, you may even start to enjoy the process. I certainly do.

But I’m an introvert, you say – not some back slapping extrovert. So what? Most consultants and professionals are at least somewhat introverted. After all, we live in a world of dreaming, pondering, diagnosing, creating, and reflecting. We’re thinkers!

As an aside, some of the most successful sales people I’ve known are introverted – some even highly introverted. They are also highly professional, with a passion for helping their customers. Just like good consultants.

Selling consulting is different…

–First, you’re not selling a tangible product — you’re selling an intangible service. As such, you typically need to develop a higher degree of trust with potential clients.

Your goal is not to sell another car this month and move on — rather, your goal is to be a trusted adviser, and hopefully for the long haul.

–Second, you need to deliver what your client bought. Remember — nobody likes to be sold — but we all like to buy — so make it pleasant!

And unlike product sales, the sales process does not stop when you get the order. You still need to deliver, and your long term business success depends on how well you execute this part of the process.

My seven steps in selling…

Hundreds of books have been written about selling, and most include a simple multi-step process. I’ve read dozens myself, plus I’ve been subjected to numerous sales training classes as a former sales engineer.

Some books and classes were better than others, but all helped form my ideas.

One drawback of many of these books and classes is their focus on products. (An exception is Rainmaking Conversations, reviewed here.) Most have four or five steps, and most assume the sales process is over once the order is received.

So I decided to expand things. I’ve used the popular AIDA model (Attention- Interest – Desire – Action) and added three additional steps – Delivery, Follow-up, & Referrals.

(1) Attention (Establish Rapport) - This is the initial contact phase, and the time to build rapport. It is also the time to address any client concerns or fears. These are particularly important if the client has not or does not use consultants on a regular basis.

I usually begin by asking about the problem, followed by asking how they heard about us. The latter gives me some insight into the trust level.

If it is a referral, the trust is already high. If they’ve found us on a web search, it may be lower, so some reassurance may be needed.

(2) Interest (Qualify) – The next step is to determine if you can help, and can they buy. In the former, don’t be afraid to turn business away if you don’t feel comfortable with it.

If the fit looks good, ask about schedule. If asked, you can also provide a budgetary estimate (go on the high side), subject to change pending more details.

(3) Desire (Diagnose & Prescribe) – At this stage, you may be able to offer preliminary diagnosis and recommendations. If not, ask more questions.

For example, I may say, “Based on what we’ve discussed, I suspect XXX, which we’ve seen before. We can handle this several ways… ”

(4) Action (Quote/propose) – The next step is to ask for the order! This is where many consultants fall down, due to fear of rejection. This is also known in the sales world as closing.

For simple projects, I usually just ask if they would like a quote or proposal. If they agree, I quickly review the tasks and schedule for consensus, and then provide a one-two page quote. Often, a purchase order will be issued based on the quote.

For more complex projects, we may decide on an additional meeting for further explorations. This may also mean detailed contracts, which we’ll discuss later.

(5) – Deliver – Time to provide what you promised. If working on-site, show up as scheduled and suitably attired. The latter depends on your client, but business casual is usually safe. If unsure, ask ahead of time. Be professional!

Check with client as you progress – don’t wait until the end of the project to find out you were going down the wrong path. Keep the appropriate management in the loop.

An important part of delivery is getting paid. For simple projects, we accept purchase orders, For more complex projects, we may request progress payments or retainers.

(6 )- Follow up – Assuming a successful consultation, ask if there are other things you might help with.  Specific projects? General training? Don’t assume the client is aware of your other services.

As any experienced sales person will tell you, subsequent sales are always easier than the first.  Assuming you’ve done a good job, you’re now a preferred vendor/adviser.

As a minimum, get permission to add you client to your mail list for periodic follow-up. Newsletters work great for keeping in touch.

(7) – Referrals
– Ask for permission to share their name with future prospects. To protect confidentiality, we do not list clients on our brochure, but we do list past projects. If a personal reference is needed, we still call to confirm as a courtesy. (Our business can be sensitive.) Never been turned down.

Depending on your business, written testimonials are great marketing tools — particularly on your web site. And don’t hesitate to ask if there are others who might benefit from your expertise.

So now you have Uncle Daryl’s Seven Steps in Selling. We’ll examine each of these in more depth in future blog posts.

Please comment or write if you have specific questions! Happy selling…

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Setting up shop… some questions…

From the mailbag: Just last week an engineering colleague (and reader of this blog) announced he was making his own JumpToConsulting. Way to go, Glen!

His announcement e-mail also had several specific questions. After addressing them, I decided to share my comments here.

(1) Quotations & Proposals

We use a two page format. The first page defines the project and tasks, and the second contains “boiler plate” such as terms, rates, etc. That makes it easy to respond – just fill in the blanks on page 1.

Here is a sample, which we send on a letterhead:

****** Quotation ******

Client: XYZ Corp.
1234 Main Street
Somewhere, AZ XXXXX
ATTN: John Smith

Purpose: The client designs and manufacturers military doodads, and is failing MIL-STD-461 radiated emissions tests.

Tasks: The consultant, an electrical engineer specializing in EMI/EMC design and troubleshooting, will assist XYZ as follows:
– On site troubleshooting and reviews at XYZ facility in Somewhere, AZ
– Optional summary report (4-8 pages typical)

Schedule: By mutual agreement (or actual date if scheduled)

Budget: $XXXXX, based on 5 days (4 days on site plus 1 day travel time) plus estimated travel expenses of $2,500. Add $XXXX for optional report.

Please note this is a budgetary estimate. Actual time and expenses will be invoiced. Quotation will not be exceeded without prior client approval.

Terms: Net 30 upon invoice. Purchase order and advance travel retainer of $2500 prior to travel. Quotation valid for 60 days.

Daryl Gerke, PE                                                              April 3, 2014
Kimmel Gerke Associates, Ltd.
EMC Consulting Engineers

I don’t believe in lengthy contracts (keep it simple.) But if you are doing a longer term project, more detail might be needed such as progress payments, etc.

Some companies will have their own consulting agreements. Don’t hesitate to change them if there is something you don’t like.

For example, we remove any limitations on working for others. There is nothing proprietary about what we do. If we limited ourselves to one computer company/one medical company/etc. we’d be out of business in a year.

We do sign standard NDAs (Non-Disclosure Agreements) as long as they do not contain any non-compete restrictions.

(2) Business Insurance

You will probably need a General Liability insurance policy, which most companies now require. We got ours through an insurance broker – about $800/year for two of us. Your accountant or attorney can recommend a broker.

You may or may not need Errors and Omissions insurance. Also known as malpractice insurance, it depends on your area of expertise. Although we are engineers, we don’t carry O&E as our area has little risk of litigation. If we were civil engineers or architects, however, we’d carry it.

(3) Business Bank Account

You also need to set up a separate business bank account. You may need to wait until you have incorporated depending on the bank.

Incidentally, I recommend having an attorney handle an incorporation. Don’t do it yourself to save a few bucks. The attorney will recommend the best legal structure for you – LLC, Sub-Chapter S, C Corporation, etc. The attorney can also handle filings, registrations, and tax documents and IDs.

Finally, these administrative details are pretty simple. The big issue is the marketing – getting the business. But for smooth operations, now is the time to get these details in place.

P.S. Got a question? Drop me a line through the ASK DARYL page.

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.