Monthly Archives: March 2011
Professional organizations offer a ready made network of friendly potential clients. The secret is to be an active participant, not just a passive member. As an added bonus, these organizations can help dispel the loneliness that often accompanies consulting, particularly for solos.
Most technical professions (medicine, law, accounting, engineering) have well established organizations. They may be national, or even international. They often host national symposiums where you can meet professional leaders, as well as the ever important vendors.
Don’t overlook the latter. While vendors may not be prospective clients,they can be very effective recommenders. Thus, it is usually in your best interest to cultivate contacts among the vendors serving your profession. Finally, as salespeople, most are friendly and gregarious — I’ve always enjoyed time spent with vendors.
Professional organizations exist for general business, too. Many focus on specific disciplines (sales, marketing, purchasing, etc.) Like the technical professionals, they often host national symposiums with presentations by business thought leaders.
While one can become active at the national level in either type of organization, your immediate efforts may be better spent at the local level. The reason — less politics, and more direct contact with actual potential clients. This is particularly helpful if you are targeting a geographical area, such as your own backyard.
We’ve had very good results with this strategy. Here are two examples:
- When we started out 23 years ago, we volunteered to edit a regional newsletter for our professional organization when the position vacated. As it was a bit of work, the local leaders were happy to have some new volunteers.
- In addition to editing the newsletter, one of us needed to attend monthly board meetings. What a great way to network! When our local power utility had a serious interference problem, one of the board members immediately recommended us. Why? To her, we were a known and trusted consulting firm.
- When I moved to Phoenix 15 years ago, the local professional chapter had been inactive for many years. A colleague and I decided to reactivate it, and hosted a couple of meetings at a Mexican restaurant –always popular in Arizona. We were soon joined by a third “conspirator”, and the chapter was off and running.
- We are still active fifteen years later. Not only has this affiliation resulted in several significant projects over the years, but I also made several new friends through our common technical interests.
The best part of all this is that you can begin doing this today. Furthermore, your employer will not be threatened or upset, but will likely be delighted by your initiative. And even if you never make the JumpToConsulting, the professional contacts you make through your professional organization will only help your career.
Finally, you’ll be doing some good. As my father always said, “Cast your bread upon the waters…” To receive, you first must give.
PS – Posts may be sparse over the next month, due both to business and a medical issue with a hand that needs to heal. Hope to pick up the pace again in May.
© 2011, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Roger Boisjoly, P.E. – Truthteller
This success story is a shining example for all consultants — not just engineers. Roger is best known for trying to stop the Challenger Space Shuttle Launch in January 1986 due to his concerns about faulty O-rings in the rocket boosters. Although often referred to as a whistleblower, Roger prefers the term Truthteller.
Roger never intended to become a consultant. As a mechanical engineer, he enjoyed working in the aerospace industry for 25 years, and probably would have spent his entire career doing what he loved.
But all that changed the day Challenger exploded!
At the time, Roger worked for Morton Thiokol, the manufacturer of the solid state rocket boosters on the Space Shuttle program. In July 1985, Roger wrote a memo to his managers warning of a faulty design that could result in a catastrophe. Due to program concerns, Roger’s warning was ignored. So were subsequent warnings.
Roger’s memo was based on an investigation that revealed failures in the O-rings used to seal sections of the rocket boosters. These failures were aggravated by low temperatures. Further investigations resulted in a warning not to launch at temperatures under 53 degrees.
With overnight temperatures of 30 degrees for the Challenger launch, Roger and his engineering colleagues tried to stop the flight. They almost succeeded, but were subsequently overruled by management. As a result, seven crew members lost their lives in a fiery explosion 73 seconds after liftoff.
A presidential investigation followed the disaster, and Roger was called as a witness. His testimony exposed the truth about senior management’s failure to heed warnings from him and his colleagues. Warnings about it not being safe to launch in freezing temperatures that would result in a disaster.
That testimony ended his career with the Space Shuttle program. Retaliation was swift and brutal. Roger lost his position and was blackballed from the industry. He paid a stiff price for simply telling the truth.
But Roger survived, and became a consultant. He passed his Professional Engineering (PE) exams 29 years out of college. Now licensed to practice engineering as an independent consultant, he started his own forensic business. That business gradually evolved into speaking engagements as he traveled nationally and internationally to lecture about Professionalism, Organizational Behavior and Ethics.
Roger is considered a hero in the engineering community. For his honesty and integrity, in 1988 he was awarded the Prize for Scientific Freedom and Responsibility by the American Association for the Advancement for Science. He has received numerous other honors as well.
Roger retired from full time speaking requiring air travel in 2005, but still keeps semi-active driving to southern California several time a year to speak to selected managers about his experiences.
Integrity matters… Thank you, Roger, for yours.
Edit – It is with regret I report that Roger recently passed away. RIP, Truth-teller.
© 2011 – 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Newsletters are effective lead generators when you already have a list of past business contacts. What? You don’t have a list? Well, I guess we need to talk about that real soon. Until then, read on.
Newsletters are a great way to stay in touch, and to remind people you are in business. They are particularly useful when clients need you on an occasional basis. In those cases, you want to be top of mind when the next need arises.
Newsletters can be printed, digital, or both. Most are short, typically 1-4 pages. For printed newsletters, the format is often fixed, while digital newsletters are more flexible. Digital versions, of course, are cheaper as they have virtually no printing or distribution costs.
As a result, digital newsletters are very popular, and are often used as list bait on blogs and web sites. This can be effective in further developing your list. The key to success is to make sure your newsletter is newsworthy for your readers.
If you don’t feel up to publishing your own newsletter, prepared ones can be purchased. For example, my accountant sends a newsletter with general business and financial tips. He does not write it, but his name and company information appear on the masthead.
Incidentally, my accountant’s newsletter is printed. I like that, as I can take it with me and read it on the next flight to somewhere. After I’m done, I often pass it along to others. Of course, his name gets passed along as well. No, print media is NOT dead.
Here is my own newsletter story. After about two years in business, we realized we needed a way to keep in touch with our existing clients in a proactive way. So we started a newsletter for our friends, clients, and colleagues. Since this was pre-Internet, the newsletter was printed.
We decided to publish it four times a year. The pleasant surprise was that every time it hit the streets, the phone would ring with a new job or two. The newsletter was actually paying for itself! How great is that?
Over twenty years later, we still publish it, but now only twice a year. We eventually went electronic, giving readers the option to receive it by snail mail. The current split is about 50/50, so don’t dismiss printed versions. Although a bit expensive, we feel it is worth it.
We experimented with format, and settled on a formula. That made it easier to write, as we now just “fill in the blanks.” We decided on four pages. To see actual copies, you can click here. (We archived the past 20 years on our web site – great for credibility!)
- Front page – Short introduction, upcoming industry events, and a paragraph or two on some item of interest, often about our services.
- Pages 2 and 3 – First, a focus article, much like a blog post. Second, brief items of interest such as a book review or perhaps a client question (sanitized of course.) Third, some tidbits (Bullets) and finally, some “engineering humor”.
- Page 4 – Summary of our services, contact information, and a copy of a business card advertisement we run in the technical magazines. As the newsletter is folded, half of page 4 is for addressing.
Finally, you don’t need to wait to try a newsletter. As mentioned other places, I started two newsletters as a Sales Engineer in the big-corporate world. Both were targeted at my customers, who liked them and gave me positive feedback. They also let me work out the kinks for my consulting newsletter.
As an aside, when I offered these newsletters to our corporate marketers, they were rejected. Both cases of NIH (not invented here), I suppose. But that also reinforced my belief that most big company marketers are not entrepreneurs, and often do not fully understand the sales process.
There are exceptions, of course — Guy Kawasaki, formerly of Apple Computer, comes to mind as one of the good guys. (Great website and insights, too.) Not to be too harsh, but if you are with a big company, you may want to divest yourself of many of your big company ideas before you make your JumpToConsulting.
Questions or comments? I’d love to hear from you.
© 2011, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Gene K. Baxter, Ph.D., P.E. – Baxter Engineering
I met Gene a dozen years ago through a professional group in Phoenix. A mechanical engineer, Gene specializes in forensic consulting (accident investigations, product failures, etc.) Typical clients are attorneys or insurance companies that need a professional to investigate and assist in legal proceedings and, if it goes to trial, to act as an expert witness.
Gene had started a local professional group, the Forensic Group, composed of a range of forensic experts — engineers, accountants, nurses, and more. Since I had done some forensic work myself, he invited me to join and attend their monthly meetings.
Although curious about the Forensic Group, I was even more curious how Gene got into this particular business. His story was most fascinating.
It was Friday, February 12, 1993, and Gene was suddenly out of work. Intrigued by both consulting and forensics for some time, he hung out his shingle as a Forensic Consulting Engineer two days later — Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1993.
The good news is that Gene had very solid credentials — a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering, and a Professional Engineer’s (PE) license. The bad news is that he had no prior experience in forensic work, although he had experience as a consulting engineer while employed by GE.
So what to do? Gene went to the law library at a nearby state university, picked up some law magazines, and reviewed the consultant ads in the back of those magazines. He then called several of the consultants to see how they got started in their business.
One of these forensic engineers was Roger Boisjoly, who you may recognize as the Whistleblower (Roger’s term is Truthteller) prior to the Challenger Space Shuttle Disaster in 1986. It turns out that Roger lived only a few miles from Gene, so they got together for lunch. (Roger’s story is so interesting we’ll cover it in a subsequent post.)
Soon after the lunch with Roger, Gene contacted another local forensic engineer, and had lunch with him, too. Both engineers were very gracious in sharing ideas and encouragement. They did not see Gene as a competitor, but as a potential colleague.
Gene thought likewise. Since he enjoyed meeting both, he suggested a third lunch with all three of them. One of them brought along a fourth friend who did forensic accounting. Over lunch, they decided to meet once a month to discuss their mutual interest in forensics, and thus, the Forensic Group was born.
Gene’s first consulting job came from this network. A few months after their first meeting, Roger asked if Gene was interested in a job related to a hospital HVAC (heating, ventilating & air conditioning) system. Thanks to that referral and the help from his group, Gene’s business was off and running.
Over the years, Gene has received several referrals from this network. Likewise, Gene has steered many jobs to others in the network when they were better qualified to handle the job. It has been mutually beneficial for everyone.
Gene pursued other avenues too — always a good strategy. There is no “silver bullet” when marketing a consulting practice. As one example, Gene started calling insurance companies to see if there was any interest in his services.
Although it took a number of phone calls, Gene hit pay dirt with one automobile insurer. They retained Gene to review rear end collisions. He became their “low-speed rear-end” expert, which resulted in dozens of consultations for this client alone.
By end of the year, Gene was making almost as much as he had as an employee. While not usually the case for a startup, it shows what diligence and determination can accomplish. That, and the help of some newfound friends.
Although semi-retired, Gene is still active, and the group he formed still meets monthly. If you are interested, you can visit Gene’s web site at www.forensicgroup.com. You can find Gene’s information there, too.
A quick disclaimer. I no longer pursue forensic work, but I’ll discuss forensic consulting in a future post. As Gene says, it can be both intellectually and financially rewarding.
Do you have a success story to share? If so, please send it in.
© 2011 – 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
This happened soon after I went off on my own. Cruising along at 30,000 feet on my way to consulting job, I was catching up on my reading.
In addition to technical materials, I’ve always tried balance my reading with business materials. Even though I’m an engineer, I’m also a business person. You know, profit & loss, sales & marketing, and all that stuff.
The business article I was reading was about the itch that drives entrepreneurs to start and run small businesses. And then the big quote hit me, as the author bluntly stated, “There are only two known cures for entrepreneur’s itch — success, or death.” It seems that once you catch the bug, you can’t get rid of it.
In a way, I felt relieved. After all, my venture into my own business hadn’t killed me. But I could really appreciate the drive that keeps one going. I had tried once before and failed, but regrouped, and this time it looked successful. Later on, it took my business partner and me four iterations to get the training side of our business right.
So be warned — once smitten, there is no cure. The itch will succumb only to success — or death.
Wishing you success, and a long and happy life!
© 2011 – 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.