Yearly Archives: 2010

You can’t go broke making a profit…

Here is my first anecdote. These are little gems that I’ve picked up over the years, along with musings and other random thoughts. I’ll be sprinkling these in the blog on an occasional basis. I hope you enjoy them.

I first met Marv (his real name) when I was with a small company trying to break into the personal computer business. Marv had developed a very successful real estate firm, and was looking into using computers to further develop his business. Since this was around 1980, Marv was way ahead of his time.

We collaborated on a project to automate “farming”, a method used by many successful real estate agents to develop local markets. (By the way, the same techniques can be used by consultants to develop their own markets. We’ll talk about this in a future post. )

Marv was specifically interested in direct mail — using word processing combined with data base management. It didn’t need to be elaborate, as his experience has shown that a “farm” of even several hundred prospects was often enough to assure an agent’s success.

Marv also graciously shared a lot of good advice with me — both on business and on life. One of his sayings that really stuck with me was, “Remember, as long as you are making a profit, you can never go broke.” So simple, yet so profound. Thanks, Marv.

Happy New Year, and All the Best in 2011!

© 2010, All rights reserved.

The Four “Cs”… Consultants vs coaches vs counselors vs contractors

Consultants come in may flavors… To add to the confusion, not everyone calls them self a consultant — many refer to themselves as coaches, counselors, or contractors.

So what is the difference, anyway? And do the differences really matter?  In a broad sense, all of the above are “consultants,”  providing advice and guidance for a fee. All of the above need suitable clients if their business is to be a success. But the approaches and focus may vary, so here is an attempt to clarify these differences.

Coaches… This category has become very popular in recent years. Examples are life coaches and management coaches. Based on the sports model for coaching, the focus is on people, often at the individual level. The emphasis is on motivation and improvements.

Coaches are often generalists rather than specialists. They rely on their past experiences and strong personal skills to help their clients. The field is easy to enter, as there are no regulatory bodies or prescribed fields of study. In the latter case, however, many of the more well known coaches offer brief training programs, which can also confer a certain level of credibility.

Counselors… This category has been around for some time. Examples include marriage counselors or drug counselors. Like coaches, the focus is on people. In this case, however, the emphasis if often on changing negative behavior.

Counselors are often specialists, and may rely on specialized training along with experience.  Like coaches, most have strong personal skills. Counselors may be regulated (such as psychologists or psychiatrists) and may require special licensing before offering services to the public.

Consultants… It seems like consultants have been around forever. In fact, it is often referred to as the world’s second oldest profession. Many wags like to point out there is little difference with the world’s oldest profession. After all, both provide services for fees.

But I like to think there is a distinct and important difference. Most consultants focus on identifying/preventing/solving problems or improving the future.  Some are technical specialists (such as engineers or doctors), while others deal are business specialists (such as management consultants.)

Technical specialists are often professionals (doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects, accountants, etc.), and typically deal with specific technical problems or issues.  Most professionals are licensed by state governments, which may require passing a compressive exam, plus demonstrating appropriate education and experience. Typically, you can not offer professional  services to the public without the appropriate licenses.

Business specialists are often have business backgrounds (management, marketing, operations, manufacturing, etc.), and may deal with a wide range of business problems. Unlike technical professionals, business consultants generally do not require any legal credentials.  Many business consultants, however, obtain nonlegal credentials such as certifications from various industry organizations.

Contractors… Often confused with consultants, most contractors are “rented employees.”  Contractors usually work for a contracting company, who then place them with their customers.  Contracting assignments can run from several days to several years. The contracting company handles the marketing (getting the clients) and administration (insurance, taxes, etc.)  Consultants, however, usually obtain their own clients and handle their own administration.

This is not meant to be disparaging, as I have known many engineering colleagues who have been contractors. In fact, some have switched among being employees, contractors, and consultants at various times in their careers.

So, the common thread in all of these categories? With the exception of contractors, all are in business for themselves. As such, all need to attract clients, set suitable fees, and run the business in a profitable way. The last  point is very important, for if you can’t eventually turn a profit, why do it?

Never forget… this is still about business (even if your practice is small)… not charity!

© 2010, All rights reserved.

Doing well by doing good…

Here is my first Success Story. These are tales of those who have succeeded at consulting (or small business in general.)  Many  are acquaintances, but feel free to send me your stories too.  This is one of my personal favorites.

I first met Lynn when we moved to Phoenix in 1996. She and her husband belonged to the church we joined. Lynn soon retired (her husband continued to work), but she wasn’t ready to slow down. Being socially conscious, she was looking for ways to contribute to the community.

Lynn had worked as a nutritionist, so she already had some specialized skills and experience.  She didn’t really intend to start a consulting business, but that was the ultimate result. At first, Lynn simply volunteered at one of the reservations in the Phoenix area. She was already aware of  some nutritional challenges faced in the Native American community, and just wanted to help.

Starting in the fall, she worked at no charge and with no expectations on compensation. The joy of working with her colleagues and seeing some success was more than enough. In the spring, she was asked if she would like to stay on for the next year, but with compensation. Unknown to her, grant money had been secured to support her efforts. It would mean traveling around the state, however, as her skills were needed in other Native American communities.

Lynn agreed, of course, and became a well respected nutritional consultant. The grants continued for several more years. She wore out two cars in her travels, but did a lot of good and made many new friends.  She also added to her retirement funds. Due to health limitations, she finally did retire, and enjoys life with her husband in Wisconsin.

Do  you have a success story to share? If so, please send it in…

© 2010 – 2012, All rights reserved.

So just what is a consultant?

Welcome to the inaugural entry in my blog!

Let’s start at the beginning —  just what is a  consultant, anyway? If we asked fifty people this question, we’d probably get fifty or more answers, and they would all be good.

Webster defines a consultant as “an expert who is called on for professional or technical advice or opinions.” This is a traditional view, and encompasses professionals such as doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers,  architects…

This definition can also include business specialties (often considered staff positions) such as marketing, public relations, human resources, advertising, finance, regulations, operations, and more. These business areas are often the realm of “management consulting” firms.

But our focus here is going to be on small independent consultants, and how to become one.  Small firms often specialize, and operate in one or more niches.  For example:

  • A marketing consultant might specialize in market research, web design/implementation, direct mail or writing white papers.
  • A financial consultant might specialize in estate planning.
  • An engineering consultant might focus on power electronics or analog design.
  • A legal consultant might specialize in bankruptcies, divorces, or taxes.
  • Et cetera…

Independent consultants also often specialize in markets, such as medical, computers, financial, etc. These specializations makes it easier to both establish credibility, and to target potential clients.

As a small firm, it is very difficult to be everything to everyone. If you are thinking about making a Jump to Consulting, you might begin with two simple questions:

  • What special skills and experience can I sell?
  • Who might pay for those skills and experience?

Its OK to have more than one niche  or serve more than one market.  But when you are small, you can’t be everything to everyone.  So it is important to focus so you can concentrate you marketing efforts.  More on that in future  posts…

Finally, remember that consulting is a business! This means providing something of value to a client,  and then getting paid for it.

Unfortunately, the term “consultant” has been bastardized. For example, many sales people refer to themselves as “consultants”, when they are really pitching products or services, not offering unbiased advice.  And since anyone can call themselves a consultant, one may be neither an expert nor a professional in their field.

By the way, there is nothing wrong with being in sales — I spend several years as a Sales Engineer, and have high regard for sales professionals. But if you are selling something other than your own advice and expertise, you are not a consultant in my book.

Another common use of the term is applied to those between jobs. In the engineering world, we often joke that a “consultant” is just an unemployed engineer. In turns out, however, that unemployment often leads to permanent consulting. I’ve known several consultants who went that route, and have become quite successful at it.

What about variations on consultants, such as “coaches” or “counselors?” Yes, I consider them consultants too — often a special breed with special skills that focus on personal improvement.  In a future post, I’ll address what I see as the subtle distinctions in these categories of consulting.

© 2010 – 2011, All rights reserved.

Welcome to Jump to Consulting

Welcome to my blog… This is a blog about how to start, build, and operate a small consulting practice. It is aimed at those who may be considering consulting as a part time or full time venture, although existing consultants may find it useful too.  The goal is to share ideas and experiences, and to help demystify this business.

As the co-founder an engineering consulting firm with over 30 years experience,  I’m often asked about the “inside secrets of consulting.”  Questions come from several directions:

  • Clients (Can we go to lunch? I’ve got some questions…)
  • Colleagues (I’m curious… How did  you do this, anyway?)
  • Travelers (Oh, you’re a consultant?  I’ve been thinking about that. Can I ask a few questions?)
  • Other consultants (Can we compare notes?)

It is always fun to engage in these conversations, and I often learn as much or more than I share.

For the past several years, I’ve been harboring the idea of a book on consulting.  The outline is done, and  I’ve even gathered a big fat file of notes.  But having written or co-written several successful technical books, I’m well aware of how much work this can be.  As a result, I keep putting it off.  There is a saying among authors, “I like not so much to write, as having written.”

Then the blog idea struck. No need to write everything at once, but the ideas can be doled out in pieces. Furthermore, questions and feedback can even improve things. If all goes well, much of this may still end up in a book, as a small legacy of my many years in this game.

The catalyst for the blog idea was a chance meeting with Pam Slim, a fellow Mesa AZ resident, author, and blogger supreme. Pam was on a book tour, promoting her new book, Escape From Cubicle Nation. Her book and her blog are rich with ideas, particularly for those suffering from the “big business blues.”  (Visit her blog

Best of all, Pamela has been there, both in big business, and then almost 10 years as a training consultant and subsequently a life coach. If you need to figure out how to escape and what to do next,  I highly recommend her book, web site, and services.  And if you’re wondering how to make the Jump to Consulting, I invite you to ride along here as well.

A SPECIAL WELCOME to “Geeks and Geezers…”

  • If you are a “geek” (aka professional),  click here
  • If you are a “geezer”(aka boomer), click here

But if you are neither, and are just interested in consulting, you are still ALWAYS WELCOME  here!  Thanks for visiting…

© 2010, All rights reserved.

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