Monthly Archives: January 2011

Shenson on Consulting, by Howard Shenson

For my second resource review, I’ve selected Shenson on Consulting by the late Howard L. Shenson. For over 20 years (mid-1970s to mid-1990s) Howard Shenson wrote books, published newsletters, and conducted seminars that focused on beginning consultants. Before he suddenly passed away in 1994, he was known as the “consultant’s consultant.”

Howard’s materials were based on his experiences with his own individual and group consulting practices.  His background was in marketing, and as a result, he was very strong in that area. He was also very pragmatic.

Instead of  big company techniques like advertising, Howard emphasized methods that at the time were non-traditional — seminars, newsletters, trade journal articles, etc. He focused on niche markets, almost always a good strategy for small businesses.

I first met Howard at a consulting seminar he held in Minneapolis in 1978. At that time, I was just starting to explore consulting. His short seminar reshaped my thinking, and started me on my journey.  I consider him my original consulting mentor.

I’ve used many of his ideas with good success. Even though it may be dated, I feel anything written by Howard Shenson is still worth reading today.

Shenson on Consulting, by Howard L. Shenson. Published by Wiley, 1994. ISBN 0-471-00925-3.  (No web site.)

© 2011, All rights reserved.

20 Ways to Attract Clients

Fishing for business…

OK, let’s get started with the question that has most of you chomping at the bit. How do I get clients/customers, anyway?

In simple terms, you need to find customers, and then sell to them.  And if you are just starting out, nobody else is going to do it for you.

Oops! I used the dreaded “S” word — sell. I know, you don’t want to become a peddler — rather, you just want to solve client problems (for a hefty fee, of course.) But if you are going to succeed, you first need customers. As we say in our business, “If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business.

To use a simple analogy, finding customers is a lot like fishing. First, you need to figure out where the fish are, and what kind of kind of bait to use to attract them. Once you get a fish on the line, you need to figure out how to get it in the boat. And remember, you don’t get to eat the ones that got away!

Attracting the fish can be considered marketing, and getting the fish into the boat can be considered sales. Both are necessary, but as the late Peter Drucker once observed, “The better the marketing, the easier the sales.

For that reason, I always emphasize marketing when discussing consulting practices. The good news is that your marketing efforts need not be expensive or complicated. A few simple, well executed plans can keep your net full.

To continue the fishing analogy, you typically need more than one line in the water. Over the years, we have found there is no magic bullet for finding consulting clients. Rather, a combination of methods is usually needed to keep the leads coming in.

In fact, with multiple lead sources, there is often a multiplying effect. For example, if you get a referral and your prospect has already seen an article you wrote or heard you speak, your success rate can increase drastically.

It all starts with leads! Here are 20 lead generation ideas we have used at one time or another over the years. Unlike “big company” approaches, most require little money but do require time and effort. I suspect we’ll add a few more, so it will likely be 20+ ideas.

Some methods are better suited to starting out (or even before starting), while others are better suited to later stages in your business.  Some focus on writing, while others focus on personal contact.

To start, choose methods with which you are most comfortable — that way, you’ll stick with them. My recommendation is to try several (but not too many), and then refine your approach with time.

We’ll discuss each of these ideas individually in future posts, and we’ll explore how to best apply them under different conditions and for different markets.  I hope these 20 ideas help you start thinking about how to fish for YOUR business.

Got your own lead generators??  Share them here… and please let me know how these work for you!

© 2011 – 2014, All rights reserved.

Karl the Engineer

A retired engineer does the math…

Every time I tell Karl’s story, it bring me joy. My engineering colleagues always love it, too. You see, when some big company bureaucrats (BCBs) tried to stick it to Karl, he struck back and won.

Karl didn’t intend to consult. Nearing retirement, he alerted his company that it was time to find or develop a replacement. His expertise was soon going out the door, and he planned to do a lot of fishing. Of course, BCBs dragged their feet, and one day, Karl retired. As planned, he went fishing.

After about three months, however, Karl was getting bored. Not only was he fished out, but he had made all the household repairs he had put off for so many years. Winter was on the way, and he wasn’t sure what to do next.

About that time, BCBs realized they needed Karl’s help. So they called him, and offered him a part time contract. But there was one small catch. Since he received a pension, any contracting fees would reduce his pension by $1 for each $2 in fees. Well, as Karl put it, “You didn’t need to be an engineer to do the math.” He politely refused their offer.

But since he already had his PE (Professional Engineer) license, he decided to form a one man consulting firm. He incorporated, and then asked the BCBs if “consultants” subject to the same pension cuts. “Well, no” they replied. So he quickly said, “Fine, we can do business. And here are my rates.” The rates were about four times what they originally offered him as a contractor.

It turns out they needed Karl — badly. They swallowed hard, and brought Karl in as a consultant.  He enjoyed it so much, he started consulting for other local firms too. When I met Karl, he was actually starting to wind down. A professional colleague, he became a friend who graciously shared advice and even sent referrals our way.

After hearing the story, it finally explained his aging Cadillac. I’d always been curious, since Karl just didn’t seem like a Cadillac person. Well, he needed a new car anyway, so he took his first consulting proceeds and bought a Cadillac. He told me he did it for the BCBs — whenever he came to consult, they got to watch him drive up in that Cadillac!

Karl finally did retire, but he had greatly enhanced his retirement funds. He and his wife traveled around the country in a motor home , plus they made several trips to Europe.  All this, plus the Cadillac, courtesy of his unintended consulting business.

Do  you have a success story to share?  Please send it in…

© 2011 – 2012, All rights reserved.

More Insurance Comments

How I handle my insurance …

This post is a quick continuation of the previous post on insurance, as someone asked how I handle my personal insurance needs.  My philosophy is to self-insure the small losses, and put the premium savings into higher coverage. As such, I carry larger deductibles than most subsidized policies, but still get reasonable rates.

Since I am approaching the right age for Social Security/Medicare, I am currently reviewing all my insurance. I’m not on Medicare yet, but have just started to look into the myriad of supplemental plans and options. Oh, it is great fun being a “boomer.”

Health Insurance Individual policy from a major health carrier for my wife and me, with a major medical rider. We have a moderately high deductible, and we do not carry dental insurance. As such, we self-insure the first several thousand dollars, but may save even more in reduced premiums. When we become eligible for Medicare, we’ll switch with the appropriate supplemental policies.

Life InsuranceTwo term policies. The first is through my professional organization, and the second is a personal policy. Incidentally, the professional organization policy is much cheaper. I elected to have two policies as a backup, in case the professional organization coverage changed.

Disability Insurance Long Term Disability from my professional organization, with reasonable rates due to a six month waiting period. No Short Term Disability policy – I self insure for that.  I recently dropped the disability policy, as I am now eligible for early social security. As such, should I become disabled, I would simple retire early and start collecting  social security.

Liability Insurance — I carry General Business Liability through a broker. The annual cost is reasonable, and often required by clients. I do not carry Errors and Omissions insurance, since there is low potential liability in my particular business. If I felt I needed it, it is available from my professional organization. Finally, on my lawyer’s advice, I do business as a corporation. (You should review your liability concerns with your attorney.)

Other business insurance — I have a rider on my homeowner’s policy that covers computers and other office equipment used in my home, as these are exempt from my standard policy. I also have a blanket umbrella policy on the home/auto policies.

My goal is to self insure the small risks my self, and insure for the larger but less likely risks. If I never personally collect any money from an insurance company, that is fine with me.  Not collecting means I have been lucky enough to avoid some pretty serious problems. (Even life insurance — that is there for my dependents, not me.)

But don’t depend on luck — as a business person, you need to manage risks!

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Words count… and have consequences…

OK, I promised an occasional rant — here is my first…

Less that a week ago, and less than 100 miles away in Tucson, AZ, a crazed gunman tried to assassinate a US Congresswoman. He failed, but he did kill six other innocent bystanders, including a beautiful nine year old girl. (As a grandpa, I can hardly even bear to think about the this.)

When asked, Pima county Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (a well respected lawman) offered his professional opinion that the political rhetoric and vitriol from certain radio and television commentators may have been a contributor. Not as fact, but as opinion. He bluntly stated as only a gruff old sheriff can, “Yes… words count, and they have consequences.”

Sheriff Dupnik behaved as any good consultant should. Rather than sugar coat things, he called it like he saw it. As a professional in law enforcement for over 50 years, his opinion certainly has credence.

As a professional engineering consultant, I sometimes must offer an unfavorable opinion. I often joke that I must tell a client “Your baby is ugly.” I also joke that when doing so, one must be careful in how you phrase things. After all, words count.

The reaction to those criticized was not unexpected. Rather than accept or address the criticism, they immediately lashed out and attacked the sheriff — but not the problem.

Argumentum ad hominem, if I remember my freshman philosophy class — attack the man. (Yes, some engineers take philosophy classes.) It is one of the oldest of debate fallacies, yet favored by the most manipulative — and believed by the most gullible.

A word of warning. Expect the same when you offer an unpopular opinion. Those under fire will criticize you, your family, your upbringing, and more. You are seen as attacking their ego, and perhaps even their livelihood. Like cornered rats, they may well fight back.

But like Sheriff Dupnik, be polite and stand your ground. As a professional, your opinion counts for much more than those of the self-serving. And remember, “Words count… and they have consequences.

My sincere condolences to the bereaved – Daryl – Mesa, AZ

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Insurance Questions

So what is it about insurance (particularly health insurance) that spooks so many people?

After the Four Key Questions (a previous blog post), this is probably number five. The question is usually posed as, “So how do YOU handle insurance?”

For many, this issue is a potential show-stopper from making the Jump to Consulting. It need not be, and the answer is simple. You buy it — it is simply a cost of doing business, just like a computer or a copier. Furthermore, since it is tax deductible, you buy it with pretax dollars just like the big guys do.

Sure, the cost may seem like a lot, particularly if you are currently in a company subsidized plan. But in reality, you are already paying for it as part of your benefits package. Although you don’t see it in your paycheck, your employer certainly sees it as part of your overall compensation. As the old saying goes, “their ain’t no free lunch…”

Although health insurance is usually the main concern, you likely need several other types of insurance, including disability, life, and liability. Here are some comments.

Health Insurance – Even if you are young and healthy, you need health insurance. This is particularly true if you have a family or other dependents. Without health insurance, one accident or a bout of cancer can mean financial ruin. No, I’m not in the insurance business. Just get the insurance — it is the responsible thing to do!

Thanks to the recent government health legislation, medical insurance should be easier to obtain for individuals and small businesses. (This is not a political statement — just my opinion.) I’ve know several people who might be consulting today, were it not for a past medical condition that made them or their family uninsurable. Hopefully, that has now changed.

I suggest a basic, no frills plan, with as high a deductible as you can stand. If you are mathematically inclined, you can figure out the level at which you are no longer paying someone else to handle your money. As a bonus, if you don’t meet the deductible, the money you might have spent on a premium is still in your pocket.

You should consider a major medical rider, although with the new legislation, this may no longer be needed. You should also consult your accountant about tax preferred medical savings plans to see if one makes sense for you.

Life Insurance – If you are young and/or have a family, you also need life insurance. On the other hand, if you are single, retired, and/or the kids are all raised, this may no longer be important. This insurance is not for you — this is for those who depend on your income.

I suggest term insurance, which generally gives you the most bang for the buck. Yes, insurance sales people will emphasize the accruing monetary benefits of whole life plans, but do you want insurance, or do you want a savings plan? Remember, insurance is there to mitigate risks.

Also remember the sales agent is working on commission, and makes more money on a whole life policy. The younger you are, the more affordable and reasonable the term insurance.

Disability Insurance – Like life insurance, you definitely need this if you have others depending on your income. But even if you are single with no dependents, you still may want to consider disability insurance. The real question is, “What are you going to live on if you become incapacitated?”

I suggest a long term disability plan, with a waiting period of six months or more. Like any high deductible,  a longer waiting period reduces policy costs. As far as short term disability, I’ve only carried that when offered by an employer and have never purchased it directly for myself. Set up a rainy day savings account to self insure for the short term risks.

Liability Insurance – If you are dealing with corporate clients, you will likely be required to show proof of general liability insurance. This typically covers risks like slipping on the customer’s icy sidewalk, or driving your car into their lobby. Their goal is for you to have insurance in place to minimize the need for legal action if something bad happens during a consultation.

Depending on your business, you may also need additional specialized liability insurance. Two examples are a physician’s malpractice insurance, or an architect’s error and omissions insurance. These are often available from professional organizations. You should definitely discuss the liabilty issues with your attorney.

Other insurance – You may want to consider other insurance offerings, such as coverage for expensive equipment or business interruptions. Keep in mind that your homeowner’s policy probably does not cover business related issues. Check this out with your insurance agent.

Here are some final thought on insurance. Shop around, as prices will vary. If you belong to a professional organization, they often offer individual plans at group rates.

One way to simplify your insurance needs is to find a good insurance broker. You want someone who specializes in small business insurance, which may or may not rule out your personal home/auto agent. Check with your accountant or attorney for a recommendation, or ask other small business owners. A good insurance broker can be a very valuable ally.

Well, I hope this has helped put insurance in its proper perspective. As I learned from a wise old college professor many years ago, “The goal of insurance is to protect yourself against the big losses, not the small losses. You can cover the small losses, but the big losses can wipe you out.”

Good advice today, too.

© 2011, All rights reserved.

My Grandfather’s Legacy

Food for thought…

In the middle of the depression, my grandfather started a new new career — selling hybrid seed corn out in Nebraska.

As a farmer himself, he was excited about this new technology. Still, he was literally asking his fellow farmers to “bet the farm.” Even though he was now a salesman, he was honest and persistent. Those who followed him and bought his product (and his ideas) became successful. Some even thanked him.

Thirty years later (and after my grandfather was gone), I met one of those old farmers. Upon learning I was Omar’s grandson, he slowly extended his hand, and simply said, “You grandfather was a very good man.”

We can only hope someone will say that about us to our grandchildren.

What will be your legacy?

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Escape from Cubicle Nation, by Pam Slim

Here is my first  Resource Review. These include books, web sites, and other resources that you may find useful in your consulting quest. The initial plan is to do at least one of these a month.

Since she was a catalyst for this blog, it is only appropriate to make Pam Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation the first review. Although not specifically focused on consulting, her book and accompanying blog provide a wealth of ideas and information for anyone considering the Jump to Consulting.

Pam also hosts a monthly telephone roundtable (free), provides one-on-one coaching (for a fee), and provides other services such as training workshops and retreats.

After ten years in “big business”, Pam became a training consultant for the next ten years, so she has walked the walk.  After the birth of her first child, she tired of all the travel, and reinvented herself as a life coach. She started her blog, which eventually led to her very popular book.

Much of her material focuses on the human/emotional side of making a major career change, such as how to discuss a career change with your spouse. (You don’t see THAT advice in most business books.)

She also helps people sort out what type of business they wish to pursue. Above all, she emphasizes balance, as in her mantra, Life first – then business.

I met Pam by chance at a book signing about a year ago. It turns out she also lives in Mesa, AZ. Who knows? Maybe there is something in the Arizona water — or more likely, in the desert sun beating down.

If you are still searching for what to do next, I highly recommend her as a resource. But even if you’ve decided on consulting, you should find her materials and programs  helpful as you make your Jump to Consulting.

Escape From Cubicle Nation, by Pamela Slim

Portfolio Hardcover, 2009, ISBN 1591842573  –

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Four key questions…

Whenever someone gets curious about consulting, they usually end up asking one or more of what I call the “four key questions.” As such, we’ll spend a lot of time on this blog addressing those questions. Here they are:

1.  How do you get your clients?

This is probably the question most asked, and for good reason. No matter what business you start, you won’t succeed without customers.

The answer, of course, is Sales and Marketing. For many considering consulting, this is a potential show stopper. It may be due to professional pride (I’m not a peddler) or even fear (I can’t stand the rejection.) Either way, you need to get over it if you want to be a successful consultant.

But never fear, I’ll share a bunch ideas that have worked for me (and others too.) Personally, I view the Sales/Marketing challenge as just another problem to be solved, no different from any other consulting challenge. Put in this perspective, it can even make getting customers fun.

A final thought — if you are just starting out, you’ll need to do this yourself. If you decide you can not take on this on, you may want to reconsider consulting.

If you are really set on consulting, you could join an established consulting firm that already has the sales/marketing process in place. But sooner or later, you should learn to master these challenges yourself. Even as an employee, the “rainmakers” are cherished.

2. How do you decide what to charge?

This is the next question that arises, and there is no simple answer. Always remember, however, as a business you must make eventually make a profit. Otherwise, you might as well stay where you are at, even if that just means going fishing.

We’ll look at several ways to price your services. These can range from hourly/daily rates to project based fees, retainers, etc. To begin with, you’ll need to determine an  hourly/daily rate, based on your comparative worth in the marketplace. This includes your salary, overhead, and profit.  The latter is important, as their is no sense of doing work for the same or less that of an employee.

This is just a starting point, however. Most successful consultants eventually figure out how to get a premium for their services. They may further expand their income opportunities through leveraging, such as classes, books, or other information based products. The current trend is away from hourly rates, and towards project or value-based fees.

Whatever you do, don’t price your services too low. This is a common error made by  brand new consultants, or those consulting on a part time basis. My advice — don’t do it! Frankly, the clients you attract with bargain prices are probably not worth having in the first place.

3.  How do you decide what to consult about?

This question is personal, and a bit tougher. The challenge is to find something the market values, but that you also enjoy. The latter is really important, for there is no sense starting a business around  something you don’t like to do. You also want to look for the chance to leverage your experience, skills, and education.

If you already like what you do, the choices are simple. Maybe you are like me, an engineer who really liked engineering, but who was tired of the big company BS and bureaucracy. Since I already had the technical skills and experience, I just had to work on the business issues. But even here, I had credentials, contacts, and credibility with my future clients.

If you don’t like what you do, it becomes a bit tougher. But don’t overlook a lateral move that let’s you leverage yourself.

An example is a young lawyer I met on an airplane. After getting her law degree, she found she really didn’t like the day to day grind of  being a lawyer. She discovered, however, that she really enjoyed the challenge of jury selection, a task most of her colleagues loathed. She turned this interest into a successful consulting and training firm serving the legal profession. As a lawyer herself, she has instant credibility with her clients.

4.  How could I get started?

This is usually the last question to come up, and often mildly  disguised as “How did YOU get started?” My quick answer is “One step at a time…”

You don’t need to do it all at once. It was nine years from when I began consulting part time until I made the full time Jump to Consulting. During that time, I tried a lot of things that proved useful later on.

For example, as a field sales engineer, I developed and promoted product-focused seminars to bring in leads. Later, I started a couple of  newsletters for my customers, both to keep in touch and also to alert customers of new products. To enhance my credibility, I started writing business and technical articles for industry focused publications.

All of the above were techniques I used later in my consulting practice. But thanks to my previous employers, I had already worked out many of the kinks. Not only that, my employers were happy with my initiative and the results they produced.

One boss even gave me a sterling review for the things I tried (even though not everything worked.) You too can start today in your present job. You can even pretend you are a consultant. Eventually, you will be.

But maybe your time frame is shorter. You’re  suddenly out of a job, and consulting looks attractive. Yes, it can be done, but it is not easy. Those who I’ve observed that went this route had both their services and their potential clients pretty well defined.

Of course, don’t overlook your present or past employers. While they may not be in a position to hire someone full time (do you really want a full time job anyway?), they may welcome the use of your talents on a temporary basis. And if they are cutting back, they may very well need your help just to get the necessary work done.

Don’t fret — this is just the beginning. We’ll address all of these questions in much more detail in subsequent postings.  Until then, keep thinking about these key questions.

© 2011, All rights reserved.

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