Yearly Archives: 2012

2012 Annual Review…

Another year has gone by, and once again it is time to reflect.

Got this idea from Chris Gullibeau of The Art of Nonconformity. He does this each year, and last year challenged others to do the same. Great idea!

Once again, I’ll review three categories:

But first, a quick overview…

The Jump-to-Consulting project is now two years old. The catalysts were questions by my older son, questions by other colleagues, and a fat file for a prospective book. With today’s economy, many people are considering options such as consulting.

I was also intrigued by blogging, and simply wanted to learn more about this Internet phenomena. What better way that to just start a blog. Incidentally, that was the same attitude that got me into consulting. Curiosity, and a desire to learn.

The EMI-GURU project began 30+ years ago, and led to full time consulting in 1987. It has been great fun, and quite successful. I’ve traveled the world, and made a lot of friends along the way.  It allowed me to practice my profession as an Electrical Engineer in a ways I didn’t even imagine as a student or young engineer.

EMI-GURU also provides the grist for JumpToConsulting. Much of what is discussed here is based EMI-GURU experiences. The stuff I talk about is not theory — rather, this is real world and is based on 30+ years in the consulting business.

HIGH-LIGHTS in 2012…

Jump-to-Consulting – The blog is up to 80+ posts. Had hoped to hit 100 posts, but got slowed down with a midyear household move. Still, proved to myself that I can keep a blog going. No burn out, and no plans to stop.

Not many readers (it is a pretty tight niche), but the occasional feedback shows it has helped several make their own JumpToConsulting. So don’t be bashful — your questions and feedback mean a lot, and they do inspire me to keep going. Thanks!

Did two live presentations based on the blog – Consulting for Geeks at DesignCon2012 (San Jose CA) in February, and the Start Your Business Workshop (Chandler AZ) in March. Both were well received, which has me thinking about more in 2013.

EMI-GURU – Celebrated 25 years in full time consulting! Sure don’t know where the time went, but as the saying goes, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” It has been a great adventure, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Now have a second partner for our training business. It is a good fit, as they complement (and do NOT conflict) our original long time partner. Done right, partnerships can work well. We’ll look at this topic in a future post.

Did a live tutorial at the IEEE EMC Symposium in Pittsburgh, and published several blog articles at EE Times. A little bit of giving back to the engineering community.

Personal – Moved! Downsized from a house to a patio home. No outside maintenance – gave up the yard and pool for a spot on a pond. Now watch the ducks, fish, and turtles at play from our patio. Best enjoyed with a libation in hand as the sun sets.

Stuck with the workout routine. This is the fourth year, and not being a jock, I’m proud to say I’m still at it. Feel better after each workout, and realize this is very important at this stage in life.

LOW-LIGHTS in 2012…

Jump-to-Consulting – Still no book. Not as many blog posts as hoped, but given the move and other projects, have kept a fairly steady pace.

EMI-GURU – Business still down. Probably a combination of the economy, and the lack of aggressive marketing. If it were a few years ago, I’d be beating the drum pretty loud. After all, continual marketing is crucial for any consulting practice.

But at this stage, I’m content with the business levels. There are a couple of interesting projects on the horizon. The spring classes were down, but the fall classes were decent.

Personal – Not completely settled in the new place. Even though we got rid of a lot of stuff, still have boxes to through. But we’re starting to see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Life is becoming more simple. (Per Thoreau…Simplify, simplify…)

LOOKING FORWARD to 2012…

Jump-to-Consulting – Start the damn book! With close to 100 blog posts, there is now plenty of material to draw from — the plan all along. Considering an on-line class, along with some personal mentoring. Nominal fees will be involved to offset the costs of running the site.

EMI-GURU – Focus on the technical classes, an area I really enjoy. As an old codger, there is nothing like seeing a younger engineer (and even an old timer) suddenly “get it.”  Love to share what I’ve learned. Will still passively pursue consulting opportunities.

Personal – Spend time with the grandchildren, along with reading, writing, and just “goofing off.”  Got a few home projects in the works, too.

Wishing you all the best in 2013! And thanks for reading my blog.

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Why critics don’t count…

Did you ever notice that there are no statues for critics?

President have them. Statesmen have them. Military heroes have them. Even business leaders have them. But NOT critics. Hmmm… there must be a lesson here.

So what propels critics? In some cases ego. In other cases a desire to tear you down. And occasionally, an honest desire to actually help you improve. Often it is hard to determine the underlying motives.

Not saying you should ignore critics. If the criticism is valid, take it and learn from it. If the criticism is invalid or comes from someone unqualified, just ignore it. Either way, don’t dwell on it or take it as a personal attack (even if it is…).  It is often the price you pay for visibility and success.

Here is a story from early in my career.

I was transferring to a job where I would be dealing directly with customers, rather than being a back room engineer.

Stan, my boss (and a wise retired Marine colonel,) offered some unsolicited advice which later proved invaluable. As he wished me good luck, he added, “You are now going to be highly visible. Don’t take any criticism personally — to those critics, you are just a target.”

At the time, I wondered why he said that. But it wasn’t long before I was hit by some undeserved criticism. Thanks to Stan, I saw it for what it was, and didn’t take it personally. I was just a convenient target.

Fast forward 30 years, and here is another story.

In this case, I was only an observer. One of our colleagues had just published a book, which became quite successful. Unfortunately, that success prompted some petty jealousies within our engineering community.

Another colleague was ranting on about how the book wasn’t really that good. To which my business partner said, “Well, it’s better than your book.” Miffed, the critic replied, “Well, I haven’t written a book.” The touché by my business partner, “That’s my point.”

As a consultant, you will often be the target of criticism — often unjustified. If so, you can always comfort yourself with this century old quote from Teddy Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts…

Not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
Or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
Whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood,
Who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again,
Because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.

But who does actually strive to do the deeds,
Who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions,
Who spends himself in a worthy cause,
Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
And who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.

So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

That quotation has hung in my office for years, as a reminder of what is REALLY important!

© 2012 – 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #12 – Seminars & Workshops

If you like teaching (Lead Generator #11), you may consider developing and presenting your own materials.

Due to the considerable start up efforts, however, I don’t recommend this for brand new consultants. Other marketing methods usually provide faster results with less work and money. This is an excellent method to consider, however, after you become established.

We started offering our own seminars at about five years as full time consultants. By that time, we had established ourselves, and were ready to expand the business. Had we tried much earlier, I’m not sure we would have been successful.

It has worked out well. Since 1992, we’ve trained over 10,000 students in our engineering specialty through a combination of public and in-house classes.

The training business nicely  complements the consulting business. Many students become clients, and many clients bring us in to train their colleagues.

But our success was not immediate. We experimented with both content and promotion. After several iterations and a few setbacks, we finally got it right.

So don’t be disappointed if your success is not immediate — one reason why I don’t recommend this as an initial marketing method.

Content

Most training seminars today run ½ to 5 days, with 1-2 days very typical. Longer than a webinar, but shorter than a class. Unlike classes, most seminars are done in a single session — a short cram course where students can focus on the subject alone.

We have found that shorter is better — a major concern is often time away from the office, not the not the dollar cost of the seminar.

Thus, the content needs to be focused and precise.  Most of our seminars range between ½ and 3 days, with 2 days being the most popular for our topics.

The content should also be tutorial. Like writing articles or white papers, your goal is to transfer knowledge, not to impress your peers. Think “How to Tell Time” –-NOT “An In-depth History of Clock Making.”

Thanks to the Internet, there is a trend to offer seminars/workshops on line in one hour chunks. In those cases, it starts to look like a traditional class. Another trend is to record seminars on audio or a DVD.  Like traditional seminars, a lot of effort is still required.

Development

The development time can vary widely, depending on how well you know your material.  Maybe you taught classes or wrote a book based on your expertise, so you already have plenty of content and ideas. But there is still a LOT of work to get to a finished product.

Rest assured, it will take much more time than you thought. And plan on spending more time editing and polishing than on developing the content in the first place.

We’ve seen various rules of thumb over the years. For technical training, we assume  5-10 hours of development per hour of class time. That means a ½ day workshop could take a week from start to finish, and a two day class can easily take up to a month.

Promotion

The next big hurdle is the promotion. Typical techniques include direct mail, e-mail, advertising, and more. No, it is not enough to build that better mousetrap — you need to promote it too!

As part of your promotion, you also need a plan for registration and payment. There are a number of on-line services that can help here. There are also plug-ins for your web site. We’ve used both methods with good success.

One way to ease the efforts is to find a sponsor. The good news is that the sponsor handles all the promo/registration details. The bad news is that you end up splitting the proceeds.

In some cases, you get nothing except the exposure. This is typical for trade shows.

We’ve partnered several times. Our most successful is a 20 year partnership with an electronics  manufacturer. They have been a joy to work with. We recently partnered with a training firm that specializes in military/defense systems, which complements and does NOT compete with our main partnership.

Going alone is the most challenging. If you do so, expect to spend some serious time and money on this. (See barriers to entry.) It can be done, but going alone is NOT recommended for new consultants.

Fulfillment

The final hurdle is the fulfillment. In addition to the presentation, you need to prepare materials and handouts.

If going alone, you’ll need a venue. Will you use a hotel? What about meals and refreshments? What about A/V? Don’t assume anything, and double check everything.

Most of this work needs to be done well in advance, and often involves financial commitments and risks. Be prepared for nonrefundable deposits and guarantees. We’ve had a few failures that cost us thousands of dollars. Try to minimize your risks.

In closing, seminars and workshops can be effective marketing tools. They can also nicely augment your consulting business. But the hurdles are there, so proceed with caution, particularly when just starting out. Don’t fret –there will be plenty of opportunities after you are established.

More examples and information on our seminars at www.emiguru.com. 

© 2012 – 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

How long does it take to make it?

I once posed that question to an attorney, about the time we were starting out in consulting. I knew this was not going to be an overnight success, but was curious about what to expect. The attorney had run his own small practice for many years, so I figured he was a good person to ask.

He responded, “Good question. Let me think. For me, it was five years. After working hard to launch and build the practice, one day I woke up and realized that I was established, and that I was going to make it. Yes, it was five years after I started.”

I often recalled his comment in those early years after making my own personal JumpToConsulting. wondering when I would feel like that. Things were moving along pretty well, and at the five year point, I FINALLY felt the same way — we were established.

But then, disaster struck. The business suddenly stopped.  It didn’t slow down — it came to a screeching halt. Two major clients suffered business setbacks, and cut back on using outside consultants.

The main niche we were pursuing — personal computers — dried up as the inevitable market shakeout occurred. So did a secondary niche. And finally, an uncertain presidential election put many client business decisions on hold.

Fortunately, we had put enough money aside to weather the storm — a short one, anyway. We used the time to regroup and refocus.

Since we’d done a bit of work on medical devices, we asked how could we expand that business. That led to writing a series of articles for a leading medical magazine, which ultimately led to a book and a nice bunch of new business.

We also looked into several other areas for potential business, and started some focused marketing efforts there as well. The result — within six months we were back on our feet.

So, how long is enough? For us, it was five years to get TO, and then THROUGH, the first big crisis. And having weathered the storm, we realized we were no longer novices — we had truly made it — and were here to stay.

P.S. Don’t despair in the early years — it is a lot of fun starting and building a practice. But it is also very satisfying when you realize you “made it” too!

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Giving Free Advice… Yes or No?

To share, or not to share – that is the question. (With my apologies to William Shakespeare.)

Two schools of thought. One says YES, the other NO. (You say tom-A-to, I say tom-AH-to.) Who is right? Well, it depends — on you and your overall objectives.

  • NO to free advice. As Abraham Lincoln said, “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.” Many lawyers today still follow this advice. Thus, the often annoying “six minute” charge for a phone call.
  • YES to free advice. As Desert Pete said, ” You’ve got to give of yourself, before you’re worthy to receive… Leave the bottle full for others. Thank you kindly, Desert Pete.” Click here for the Kingston Trio version.

Maybe because I live in Arizona, I prefer Desert Pete. It also better fits my business model. Most of my engineering consultations range from a 1-10 days or more. Thus, charging someone for a quick answer isn’t worth the effort to track the time, prepare an invoice, etc.

Not only that, is can be seen as “nickel and dimeing.” I’m not pursuing five minute jobs — I’m after five day jobs (or more.) So I just chalk up the free advice to marketing.

If my advice helps, I’ll be considered when the customer has a bigger job. That customer is also more likely to pass my name along to others.

Thus, at Kimmel Gerke Associates it has long been our business policy NOT to charge for short phone call inquiries. We’ve always encouraged our class attendees (10,000+) to call/e-mail us with quick questions. Ditto consulting clients.

To date, no one has abused that policy. Well, I did have one. After answering several questions, I finally suggested he needed to get someone on site to dig into his problem. That in itself was good advice, as I had already run out the string on simple solutions. The calls stopped, but apparently he was not going to spend money anyway.

If it looks like it might take more than a few minutes (research, design reviews, written memos) we’ll provide a budgetary estimate. We also guarantee we won’t exceed the estimate without prior approval. This protects both parties. If the scope increases, we’re not stuck with a fixed fee. At the same time, there are no surprises for the client.

This policy might not work for everyone. For example, if you are an accountant or a lawyer, your short answer may be very valuable. And, it may have taken you years of study and experience to get to the point where you can quickly answer the question.

In that case, charging for short questions makes sense. Here are some options to consider:

  • Flat fee for questions. ($75-100  for up to 15 minutes or so.) You make a few $$$, and still serve your client. Charge it to their credit card, which eliminates the paperwork. Most companies now prefer to pay small amounts by credit card.
  • We belong to a technical answering service that operates this way. Their clients sign up for the service, and when we (as an expert) get a call, we get paid to respond. We don’t make a lot, but it does provide occasional beer money.
  • Offer a retainer. Popular with lawyers and business consultants. For a fixed amount per month, you agree to be available to answer questions. You may need to bound this (up to 4 hours per month — phone calls only — no onsite work — no writing reports — etc.)  Get paid in advance, and don’t refund unused time.
  • Prepaid coupons for short blocks of time. Once again, charge a premium, get paid in advance, and set an expiration date — perhaps a year. This seems to be quite popular in the personal coaching business.

A closing anecdote. A few years after we started, I ran across a reference to our company on a forum. When asked for a consulting recommendation, the responder said, “Call Kimmel Gerke Associates. Not only are they good at what they do, but they are easy to work with. And they won’t nickel and dime you…”

It was then I realized our policies were working — you simply can not buy that type of advertising. Sharing quick advice is right for us, and we still do so today.

The consulting business is one of relationships, not just expertise. Clients buy services from those they know, like, and trust. Be that person!

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

On Turning 60…

When making several career changes (including my own Jump to Consulting), I often justified my actions with “Well, I don’t want to wake up one morning and discover that I am 60 years old, and I never did that…”

Well, I’m now past 60, and guess what — I am damn glad I took those chances!

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

A Tale of Two Bank Accounts…

Two bank accounts — financial and experience…

Can’t remember where I first heard this story, so I can’t credit the original author. But I found the idea so compelling I wanted to share my version here.

Once upon a time, there were two consultants, John and Bob. Both had unique expertise of value to clients. Both started out at the same time, both served the same markets, and both were well compensated.

As an expert in his field, John was rigorous in sticking to his niche. Essentially, he sold the same advice over and over. Within a year, his saw his business slipping, and within two years, he was out of business.

Also an expert, Bob was always stretching himself. He saw each consultation as not only a provider of income, but also a provider of new experience. Within a year, his business was on the increase, and within two years he was doing very well — not only in his original niche, but in several other related areas.

Bob lived happily ever after, while John did not. Not all fairy tales have happy endings.

Why did John fail while Bob succeeded? Well, John was only concerned about filling his financial bank account, while Bob was also concerned with his experience bank account. The bottom line in consulting — you need to make deposits in BOTH accounts.

The experience bank account is often referred to as intellectual property, or simply IP. But IP is dynamic, not static, and must continually be updated and refreshed. After all, clients want fresh ideas and solutions, not the old worn out stuff.

So, keep you eyes on both accounts — financial and experience. Don’t be afraid to stretch yourself — just don’t overreach into areas for which you have NO qualifications. And be prepared to invest some time to become competent in new areas to expand your practice.

So what have you done recently to add to YOUR experience account?

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Don’t wait too long…

When Mary (my bride of 40+ years) came into my office, she looked sad.

“Whats wrong?” I asked.

“Upon opening a Christmas card,” she replied, ” I just learned that an old high school friend died suddenly this past year. The one we meant to visit. ”

Her friend lived in Las Vegas, and for the past several years we had talked about making a trip to see her and some other friends. After all, Las Vegas is only a few hours away, and people from Phoenix go there all the time. Now it was too late.

I was reminded of my own  procrastination when a cousin passed away twenty years ago. Diagnosed with cancer, he was home from the hospital and doing better.

When I called his home, I got the answering machine. Rather than leave a message, I thought “I’ll call again in a few days.” But he took a sudden turn for the worse, and died the next day.

This was not meant to be morbid or sad, but rather to serve as a reminder.

Don’t wait too long… to visit a friend, to hug your kids (or grandkids), or to start that new consulting practice.

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Today – Celebrating 25 years as a full-time consultant…

Monday, October 19, 1987… the day the stock market crashed… was also my first day as a full time consulting engineer with the company I confounded. The crash was scary, but we obviously survived. Now we just reminisce that the first day in business was the worst day in business. It has been better ever since.

After consulting part time for nine years, it was time to take the plunge. At age 41, the time seemed right. I didn’t want to wake up at 60 regretting that I had not even tried. Besides, the worst possible outcome was not fatal — it just meant having to crawl back into the corporate world again.

Since we didn’t want to sink the business right away, I stepped out first. The original plan was to for me to work on projects while drumming enough additional business to support both of us. We thought this might take six months or more, but we were wrong.

In spite of the market crash, my business partner was able to jump in a few months later. We had done a lot of planning, and it paid off. We also had socked away enough money to sustain us for several months with no business, and a year with moderate business. That let us focus on building the business, rather than worrying about paychecks.

Looking back, there have been quite a few adventures that most likely would have been missed in a regular job. These include several interesting foreign assignments:

  • Korea – Two trips to teach classes to about 100 engineers. What a pretty and gracious country!  And who knew there were so many types of kim chee?
  • Kuwait – One trip to teach a class for the Kuwait National Petroleum Company. This was after the Iraq/Iran war, but just before Kuwait was invaded. Met a bunch of fine young engineers there, and I hope they all survived the Iraq invasion.
  • Singapore – Ten days working on an experimental plasma incinerator. Boy, did that ever cause some interesting electromagnetic interference issues. Fixed it though, and enjoyed the multicultural influence on this very interesting city-state.
  • Alaska – OK,  technically not a foreign country, but spent two weeks teaching classes at Prudhoe Bay, the wellhead of the Alaska pipeline. This was a treat, as my brother (a civil engineer) was responsible for many of the buildings in the oil camps. Also experienced -50F, even colder than Minnesota.
  • Others – Several trips to the UK, Germany, Amsterdam, Canada, and Mexico for both teaching and consulting projects. Enjoyed them all.

There have also been a number of very interesting engineering projects across a wide range of industries. Here are some memorable ones:

  • Diesel locomotives. A highlight was sitting in the cab, looking for the cord to blow the whistle.  Disappointed, however, when I discovered it was jut a button on a console. Oh well…
  • Airplanes. Worked on a lot of avionics projects, but another highlight was sitting in the cockpit of a Gulfstream pretending I was a pilot. My client even said it was OK to make airplane sounds.  Now do engineers know how to have fun, or what?
  • Spacecraft. Worked on a bunch of these too. A highlight here is knowing one of those projects is still orbiting overhead gathering scientific data, and well in excess of its expected life.
  • Nuclear power plants. One time when I asked where the reactor was, I was told it was only a few feet away through solid concrete. No, I don’t glow in the dark, but the real disappointment was that I didn’t start regrowing hair.
  • Medical devices. Probably among the most satisfying projects, realizing that my efforts have helped improve products that save lives.

In total, I’ve worked on a couple of hundred projects across a wide range of industries (details here), yielding several lifetimes of engineering experiences. In addition, my business partner and I have trained over 10,000 engineers in our technical specialty — sharing what we’ve learned with a new generation of engineers — a reward in itself.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.  It has been quite the adventure!

Incidentally, this post was not meant to brag, but rather to offer an example and encouragement to anyone considering their own JumpToConsulting.

What will the next 25 years bring you?

P.S. – Won’t be posting for a couple of weeks – time for a little vacation. But, like the Terminator, “I’ll be baaack..”

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Resource Review – Stop Acting Rich… And Start Living Like A Real Millionaire…

Just finished reading this book. A great resource for anyone (including consultants and wannabe consultants) seeking financial freedom along with occupational freedom. This is the latest book by Dr. Thomas Stanley, author of the bestsellers The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind.

Unlike too many financial guides with their special formulas on getting rich, Dr. Stanley’s book shows HOW others have already done it. For the past 20+ years, he has conducted extensive research on the lifestyles and behaviors of the affluent. As an engineer, I love it — don’t just give me a theory — show me the data!

His results are revealing. As it turns out, most high net worth individuals are not who you think they are. Surprisingly, your plumber or hardware store owner driving the beat up pickup truck may well be a multimillionaire — while your doctor in the McMansion with the Mercedes, (or even your corporate boss) may be worth a lot less.

The difference is in what Stanley calls balance-sheet affluence (BA) versus income-statement affluence (IA). It turns out that many who earn high incomes squander their wealth in high consumption (or as he calls it, hyperconsumption.) As a result, they fail to convert their high earnings into wealth.

  • Among the worst offenders — doctors, attorneys, and mid-level managers. With their high incomes and high status jobs comes an expectation of high consumption. They often live beyond their means, with big houses, fancy cars, expensive suits,  gourmet food and wines, and more.
  • Among the best wealth builders — business owners (including independent consultants),  engineers (yea my fellow geeks), and college professors. Although by no means poor, many of these folks practice frugal living, living below their means and investing the difference. One day they wake up wealthy — and not from winning the lottery.

Stanley’s arbitrary criteria for affluence is a million dollars in net worth (assets minus liabilities). He likes to exclude non-investment real estate, since as we have seen in the past few years this  represents illusionary wealth that can quickly evaporate.

The real question, of course, is how long can you live off your assets and their passive earnings? With proper management, a million dollars in assets can last a LONG time…

So what does this have to do with consulting?

  • First, you don’t need a million dollars to start a consulting business. You do need, however, to have your finances under control. That means minimal debt combined with a frugal mind set. A modest mortgage is OK, but big car payments and lots of credit card debt are NOT OK.
  • Second, if you are not in a solid financial condition, I suggest fixing your financial problems prior to making a JumpToConsulting. And when you do make the jump, you’re not likely to get rich right away, but done right you can make a decent living and untimately create your own financial independence.
  • Third, once you do make the jump, keep the frugal mind set. Don’t put your money into a fancy car or office to impress clients. Rather, put your time and money into building your business through diligent sales, marketing, and delivery of services. Continue to live below your means.
  • Fourth, as soon as you can, set up a Keogh or other retirement plan, and treat it as a necessary business expense. If you set aside 25% of your W-2 income every year, it forces you to live on 80% of the full income (plus that 25% is tax deferred) As Stanley points out, the 80% method is a great way to build wealth in a relatively painless way.

For those of you who love stats and examples, here are just a few:

  • Only about 3.5 % of the US population has a net worth of over a million dollars. This translates to about 3.5 million households.
  • Only about 0.1% of the US population has a net worth of over ten million dollars. And only a tiny fraction of those are sport stars or celebrities. According to Stanley, you are more likely to catch malaria in the US that to have a net worth over ten million dollars.
  • Most true millionaires (not the pretenders) live in houses that cost under $400,000, drive Toyotas or Hondas, wear Timex or Seiko watches, and have never paid more than $400 for a suit. So much for emulating the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Finally, why did I include this in a blog on consulting?

Because Uncle Daryl Wants You — To Be Free. Starting and building your own consulting practice is one way to do this, and I wanted to share my experiences and advice here. There are a multitude of other ways, but virtually all of them share a common theme of managing your finances wisely to create your wealth.

And in case you are wondering
— yes, my wife and I are financially independent. That was not the case when I started my consulting practice 30+ years ago, but thanks to working hard,  a successful practice, and frugally living beneath our means, we made it. You can too!

Stop Acting Rich… and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire
Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D.. — Wiley — 2009
ISBN 978-0-470-48225-1

Web Site: http://www.thomasjstanley.com/

PS – Interested in more of this? Check out Mr. Money Mustache, a blog I just discovered on financial independence by a fellow geeky engineer who retired eight years ago at age 30.  Married, with a kid no less, so it can be done by a family — not just single persons.

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Lead Generator #11 – Teach a class…

Teaching can be a great lead generator. It is how I got started in consulting over thirty years ago, and it continues to a nice source of business and income today. Here are five good reasons to consider teaching.

1 – You can begin right away. You don’t need to do extensive marketing or build a customer base. Just check your local university, junior college, or adult education program. Many are begging for consultants (or potential consultants) to share their real world experience, and would love to add you to their catalogs.

2 – Gives you immediate credibility and visibility.
Teaching a class implies you know what you are doing, and that you have been vetted by the teaching organization. Of course, you do need to deliver, but if you have the right experience, you are already on the right track.

3 – You can make a few bucks.
You won’t get rich teaching, but you can make this marketing method pay for itself, and help support your other marketing efforts.

4 – Develops your presentation skills. This is a very important skill for consultants, and there is nothing like practice to improve those skills. (With over 200 classes under my belt, I’m still learning…)

5 – Showcases your knowledge and experience to potential clients. No, don’t do a hard sell, but if they need more help, you’ll be among the first they will ask. After all, presumably you have already helped them through your teaching.

This marketing method is ideal for potential or part time consultants. Teaching a class presents a very low threat to your employer, and even enhances your value. Along with skills and experience, you’ll be seen as someone with initiative to improve both yourself and your students.

Teaching is how it all began for me. My business partner was already teaching an adult evening class at a local vo-tech (vocational technical school), and recruited me to teach a class. These were introductory electronics classes, so as electrical engineers we were pretty well qualified.  The real challenge was to keep it simple.

Even so, at first  I wasn’t sure. I’d never taught, but it sounded interesting. Besides, the school was in a bit of a panic, as the instructor for my class had to back out at the last minute due to health problems. So I jumped in, and have never regretted it.

The teaching assignment led to several interesting projects, which only served to whet our appetites for consulting. For several years, the school was our primary client.  And yes, we got paid for these extracurricular projects.

  • Our first project was to clean up the adult electronics curriculum for the vo-tech. The classes were disjointed, and they wanted to make them more cohesive. We identified several new classes to fill in the gaps, and even recruited engineering colleagues to teach them. Both the school and our colleagues were delighted.
  • A big project emerged to develop a two year program on printed circuit board design.  Unknown to us, the school had received a state grant, and needed someone to do the technical work. It turned out to be a lot of work, but the grant was generous enough that we made a very nice  profit on the project.
  • Another interesting project was to develop a seminar on how to select a business computer. This was when the IBM PC first arrived, and the local business community was hungry for unbiased advice. The school wanted to do a semester class, but we suggested a three hour seminar instead. This was quite successful, and gave us or first experience with focused seminars.
  • The classes started to generated external consulting. Our first independent project was helping  select a computer system for a local medical society. The clients had attended our computer  seminar. Other similar projects followed.

As a bonus, the teaching experience gave us the confidence and the skills to offer our own seminars and workshops some years later as full time consultants. These eventually became a significant part of our income. (We have now trained over 10,000 students in our technical specialty, greatly enhancing our client base.) But without the early teaching, we might not have done it.

So where do you start? Check out your local adult education programs (colleges, junior colleges, libraries, etc.)  They make it simple for you, as they provide the venue and do all the marketing.  They may have prepared classes they want taught, such as introductory accounting, business law, web design, computer programming, etc. They may also have some elementary training for new instructors.

Another option is for-profit training companies. These companies often use contract instructors to deliver their materials. Most are also open to new classes if you are ready to develop your own materials. Keep in mind, thought, that this can turn into a lot more work than expected. Nevertheless, if you have a topic you feel strongly about, this can be a good option.

Can you do this? Yes, if you have the interest and experience. I had a speech class in college and hated it, but when I started teaching basic electronics, I was amazed at how easy and fun it was.  The latter is important — there is no thrill quite like seeing the “light go on” when a student “gets it.”

Finally, keep it simple. Stick to the basics. You are not trying to impress your peers — rather, you are trying to convey introductory information. If your students want more advanced information,  they may eventually turn into clients. But if not, you’ll still have the satisfaction of helping someone learn more about your subject.

In closing, consider teaching as a potential stepping stone to your own JumpToConsulting.

P.S. – What about your own seminars/workshops/webinars? Another variation on teaching, but much more work up front. As such, generally not recommended until you are establisehd.  We’ll cover those in more detail in a  future post.

© 2012 – 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Conflicts of Interest…

To be avoided at all costs! Your credibility and reputation depend on avoiding even the hint of a conflict of interest.

Your primary responsibility is to your client. Period. No ifs — ands — or buts. Keep your mouth shut about their business, and protect their proprietary information. If something just doesn’t feel right, then don’t do it. This includes even simple things like using client office supplies, or worse, padding time or travel expenses.

What about Nondisclosure (NDA) Agreements? We regularly sign standard NDAs, and treat clients who don’t request them as if they have one. By standard agreements, we mean those that simply limit disclosures of proprietary information for a limited amount of time (typically 1-3 years.) Data already known or in the public domain is excluded.

If you don’t like the terms, modify them. Don’t make this a confrontation — just be professional. But do have everything in order before you proceed with your efforts

What about Non-Compete Agreements? We do NOT sign them. If we only agreed to work for one computer company, one medical company, etc… we’d soon be out of business. We also do not sign patent terms, agreeing to give up patent rights, etc. Sometimes a lawyer may try to include those terms, but we simply cross them out before signing any agreement.

Most of our consultations are short term. The non-compete/patent issues might be appropriate for a long term contract. If faced with this issue, have your lawyer review any contract first. He or she will probably include some reasonable limitations.

  • We’ve never lost business over these administrative issues. Once had a case, however, where a small company lawyer was pushing hard for a non-compete. He insinuated perhaps I had something to hide. My comment to the engineering manager – “Well, if your lawyer is so smart, perhaps he can fix your problem.” Incidentally, I got the job after the young hot-shot was overruled.

What about part-time consulting? This adds extra concerns. In addition to client issues, you should avoid consulting for your company’s customers, competitors, or suppliers. You also need to avoid using your company’s resources or working on company time.

An acid test for part time consulting is to ask yourself, “What would I feel if confronted by the president of my company?” If you can honestly say it is none of the company’s business what you do with my your free time, you are on a solid ethical footing.

If you have singed an employment contract that prohibits outside activities, however, you may be stuck. Unfortunately, many companies today (large and small) think they own you 24/7. You may want to review any agreements with your lawyer. Nevertheless, any outside consulting may jeopardize your full time job, regardless of the legal status. So tread carefully.

One final piece of part-time advice.  Keep a low profile with your outside activities. Office politics and petty jealousies can and do cause problems. We’ve seen it happen — enough said.

The bottom line — be ethical! Trust and reputation are fragile. The test is simple — if your actions might embarrass you with your client (or your mother), then don’t do it!

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Resource Review – The Happiness Project…

Been a while since I did a resource review. For this month, I’ve selected the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. It seems appropriate, since happiness (as in job/career satisfaction )is a common goal for those making a JumpToConsulting.

Recently picked this book up at the Omaha airport (Go Huskers…) Although vaguely aware of the book and her accompanying blog, I’d never read her materials. What a pleasant surprise! And a bit inspiring too, as it got me off the dime regarding what I wanted to focus on next.

A successful writer with a loving family, Gretchen was already reasonably happy. But one day (while riding a bus) she had an epiphany summarized as “The days are long, but the years are short.” Was life passing her by, and was she enjoying the journey as much of it as she could?

So, she initiated the Happiness Project, a year long effort which she documented in a blog and later as a book. To avoid being overwhelmed, she picked twelve topics and focused on one topic per month. Certainly better than making twelve New Year’s Resolutions and giving up by mid-February.

She measured and recorded her progress, using Benjamin Franklin’s methods as a model. Equally important, she supplemented her personal experiments with in-depth research. This ranged from modern psychology to the wisdom of the ancients.

The result — a delightful and thought provoking journey of self discovery, with a range of  ideas we can all put into place as applicable. Two that resonated with me were “Do what you TRULY like, not what you think you should like,” and “Be Yourself.”

Both good advice if/when you make your own JumpToConsulting.

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
Harper, 2009
ISBN-10: 0061583251
ISBN-13: 978-0061583254
www.happiness-project.com

PS – Gretchen just released a sequel titled Happier at Home. Haven’t read it yet but plan to soon.

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

A Thought for Today…

Great advice! Saw this today at the gym where I work out.

If you REALLY want to do something, you’ll find a way.  If not, you’ll find an excuse.

So how about it — do you REALLY want to start your own business? If it is a consulting practice, we’ll help you find the way. Any other business, we’ll still offer you encouragement.

© 2012, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Create Your Sales Collateral…

When you finally make client contact (marketing becomes sales), you often need simple stuff you can hand out or mail – business cards, brochures, folders, letterhead, envelopes, labels, etc.

Since these create first impressions of your business, they should be an integral part of your sales and marketing process.

These items are often referred to as sales collateral. Some people include web content, pricing and data sheets, white papers, and more in this definition. In this post, we’ll focus on the simple printed materials.

Before we get specific, here are some general comments:

  • Keep it simple. Like a doctor or lawyer, you are trying to present yourself as a professional.  One exception — if you are in a highly creative business, you may want to showcase your creativity. Otherwise, simpler is safer.
  • But don’t skimp on quality. This is NOT the place to cut corners. Go with high quality paper stock with a fine finish, such as textured or matte. Just make sure the printing looks good on it. (I prefer a light colored stock to plain white.)
  • Coordinate the look and feel. This applies to both printed and electronic marketing materials. You want consistency among the colors, fonts, and logos (if applicable). Subtle, but this is all part of your branding process.
  • Put contact information everywhere! One of my biggest pet peeves is having to hunt for contact information. This is particularly true with web sites, but I’ve also had to hunt on printed brochures and even letterheads. In the latter case, I suggest full contact info on the bottom of the page — address, phone number, and web site.

Here are some suggestions based on what we have done:

1. Business Cards – Don’t be cute — use a standard size in a suitably heavy stock. You don’t want your card to feel flimsy, and you want to make it easy for people to file or scan. Although increasingly popular, I prefer NOT to use a picture on the card (but definitely put that in your brochures.)

We settled on a  light gray linen finish with two print colors — dark gray and dark blue, with a simple dark blue logo. Although the second color adds a small cost, we felt it conveys a more professional image.

2. Letterhead/envelopes – Should match your business card, although the paper stock may be lighter. We use 20#  stock which feeds well with most printers and copiers. We also use a matching letterhead for electronic communication, which we usually send as PDF files.

3. Brochures – Should also match your business card and letterhead. As a minimum, I feel you should have a simple three fold brochure that fits in a standard envelope. Yes, many argue this is not necessary with web sites, but there are times when a printed brochure makes sense.

Keep the content simple. Include a BRIEF background with a professional photograph. The photo can be black and white, but you will also want matching color copies for article biographies, press releases, etc.

The rest of the brochure should be simple too. Use bullet points to summarize capabilities, and include a short testimonial or two if available. Regarding clients — get permission FIRST if you use their names. Incidentally, we do NOT use client names to protect confidentiality. Instead, we include a list of typical past projects.

In addition to a general brochure, we also developed a special brochure describing our training classes. We also developed a special mini-brochure with some tables of technical information.  Dubbed UBI (Useful Bits of Information), we find our engineering colleagues often keep these for years – long after throwing out cards and brochures.

Of course, ALL of these brochures should have full contact information on both sides, as people often photocopy them. Always make it easy for potential clients to contact you!

4. Other – These can include mail labels, presentation folders, etc. Once again, these should match your other printed collateral. As an aside, we rarely use presentation folders any more, but when you want to make an impression, they are very useful. We printed a couple hundred with our name/logo for a nominal amount, and they have lasted us for years.

Some final thoughts. You may want to engage a graphics designer for help. We did, and got good advice on colors, fonts, and even a simple logo. It was money well spent.

We also use a small commercial printer. Nothing wrong with the large print chains, but we’ve found the extra service invaluable. They have also referred us to other vendors as needed – mail houses, etc. In fact, our graphics designer was on their staff.

So what is the cost of all of this? Depending on quantities, you should be able to outfit yourself for $500-$2000 depending on quantities and amount of graphics design.

Remember, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

© 2012 – 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

You Do Want To Grow, Don’t You?

Not really… Who says you need to grow to be successful? Children grow, but then they stop growing (physically) when they are “grown up.”

The question was posed by a fellow business owner in the mid 1990’s. Thanks to new government regulations, our business was booming. Our plates were filled, and other consultants were actually asking us to hire them. The good times were here!

But it was obvious that those good times would not last. Eventually, the rush would be over and  business would return to previous levels. Which is exactly what happened a few years later.

Still, it was an opportune time to consider growth, so my business partner and I discussed it. If we grew, what other opportunities should we pursue? Who might we hire? How big should we grow?

But then we asked the more fundamental question — do we even want to do this?

Eventually, we decided NOT to grow. Both of us enjoyed working with clients on their technical problems and opportunities. Neither of us really relished managing others, and letting them have all the technical fun. Which is probably why others wanted us to hire them — they didn’t want to manage either, or to drum up the business themselves.

To get us through the big bulge in business, we subcontracted for a couple of years. This allowed us to stay involved with clients while serving their needs. But even that was less than satisfactory at times. To be blunt, employees don’t always have the same motivation as owners, and clients often prefer working with the principals.

The result — we remained a small boutique consulting firm. Could we have made more money by growing? Perhaps — or perhaps not. But I’m pretty sure it would not have been nearly as much fun for us.

Incidentally, we’re not alone on this issue. Over the years, other colleagues have reached the same conclusion. One even grew his firm to over 40 employees, and then later shrunk it back to a sole practice. More fun, less stress.

On the other hand, if you truly want to grow, go for it. Just make sure growth is what you REALLY want. As the old saying goes — Be careful what you wish for — you might get it.

One final thought — the focus here is on physical growth,  not intellectual growth. Without the latter, you will soon be out of business!

P.S. – What about the business owner who chided us for not growing? Went bankrupt a few years later. Nuff said.

© 2012 – 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

From the mailbag…re “Are Engineers Really in Demand?”

This is a response to Jim, who commented on “Are Engineers Really in Demand.” Thought this deserved a blog post, rather than just a response from me.

Of all the things that offer consulting opportunities Engineering, with the exception of Civil, is way down on the list. With all the non disclosure agreements and req 4 security clearances its almost impossible to be a real engineering consultant. Besides Companies find engineering the most outsourced, easily replaceable ppl prod today. Companies can hire temp Engrs today by the handful. Unlike things that take that special personality to make it successful Engrs have finally become the new grunt labor seen by Mgmt as “the ppl not smart enough 4 a real business career.” Wake up its 2012 not 1962!

Thanks for the comment, and for reading my blog! In fact, you’ve given me ideas for a new post.

First, I respectfully disagree that engineering consulting is not viable. Having done this full time for 25 years (and having made a very good living at it), I’ve also met a number of other successful full time engineering consultants across multiple disciplines — electrical, mechanical, civil, and more.  Even collaborated on projects with some, when we needed to leverage our individual strengths.

I also disagree that nondisclosures and security clearances are a barrier. We regularly sign nondisclosure agreements, although we do NOT sign non-compete agreements. (If we agreed to work with only one auto company, one medical company, one computer company… we’d soon be out of business.)

Regarding security clearances, we’ve worked on classified programs without clearances. We’ve held clearances in the past, so we appreciate this concern.  Fortunately, our engineering specialty does not deal with classified data, so we work around it.

But the military/defense sector is only a small part of industry — there are a myriad of opportunities in other areas (commercial, facilities, medical, industrial controls, and much more) that do not require security clearances.

Incidentally, we decided early on NOT to focus solely on defense, and have been better off for it. (Didn’t want all our proverbial eggs in one basket.)

I do agree that engineering is being outsourced, and to I share your concerns. But is it realistic to expect that we in the US should “own” all the engineering?

After all, there is a world wide market for our products.  My experience with non-US engineers has been positive — smart, innovative, and driven with a passion for engineering. (Maybe that explains some of the outsourcing — companies seek talent where they can.)

At the same time, there are many medium and smaller companies who employ local talent. In fact, they are among my favorite clients. Many of the engineers are refugees from big companies, and are more interested in changing the world than climbing the ladder.

Ditto the management. Many are engineers themselves and appreciate the contributions of their employees — and also their consultants!

Regarding the latter, these companies are often fertile ground for consulting, particularly if you have unique talents and experience such as power electronics, analog design,  RF design, EMI/EMC (our area), etc. These smaller companies often need help, but not on a full time basis. Yes, they often “outsource” too, but to consultants.

Finally, I agree with your displeasure with unenlightened management. I spend the first half of my career in the corporate environment (big and small), and was twice suddenly out of a job due to corporate bungling and egotism.(Also two reasons why I eventually decided to hang out my own consulting shingle.)

But I also worked for several good companies with great bosses where I learned a lot. Ditto my clients — I’ve seen some great managers in both large and small companies.

So if you don’t want to be on your own, rest assured there are good managers out there — but you do need to seek them out.

I hope this helped. When I responded to the IEEE article (Are Engineers Really in Demand?), I sensed a lot of frustration, just as in your comments. That’s OK — I’ve been there too. But my goal was to show there are viable alternatives, with consulting as one of them. Good luck in 2012, and beyond!

© 2012 – 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

A Declaration of Independence…

Today this Baby Boomer declares he is OFFICIALLY SEMI-RETIRED…

For the past several years, I’ve been grappling with my occupational status. Thanks to the recession, consulting activities have been less than full time, meaning I had more free time. Discovered I rather enjoyed that.

But when people assumed I was retired, I’d correct them. Guess I wasn’t ready to join the ranks of the old geezers. However, a  couple of recent events changed my thinking.

The first event was a college reunion last week. About fifty of us lived in a housing co-op that was a “poor man’s fraternity.” We had two old houses that might even be classified today as slums. We were definitely at the bottom of the social strata, but who cared? (Think Animal House...)

Most of us were poor but ambitious, and willing to work hard. But we played hard, too, and had a great time. We drank a lot of beer, and pulled off our share of stunts. We bonded, and formed life long friendships.

A few years ago, we started holding annual reunions. This time, about 25 showed up for the weekend. While many were retired, nobody was sitting around in a rocking chair. Everyone was enjoying a wide range of activities. Most confessed they were busy as ever.

We also toasted those who were no longer with us, including John of green shirt fame. Several months ago, John was planning to finally join us this year, but cancer won. A sad reminder of our mortality, and a bit of a wake up call.

The second event was reading the Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Her book describes her research and personal experiments on finding happiness. It was a year long journey of self-discovery that she documented and shared.

She had numerous key points and suggestions, but two that resonated were “Do what you TRULY like, not what you think you should like,” and simply “Be Yourself.” I decided it was time to do both. The consulting biz has been fun, but it is no longer a top priority.

This declaration is strangely liberating, and even a bit exciting. To me, this represents a critical shift. My priority will no longer be on earning my living as a consultant, but rather on other activities such as grandchildren, travel, and the JumpToConsulting project (and activities it may spawn.)

In simple terms, here is a thought that summarizes my new direction:

I care more about making a difference than simply making a living.

You are welcome to ride along, regardless of your age or retirement status. We’re all on this life journey together!

P.S. So how does this affect my consulting business? Not much, really. I’ll still stay involved with the practice, but on a secondary basis to other  pursuits.  Won’t be actively pursuing new clients, but will still take care of existing clients as time permits. Will also be active in our training activities.

Furthermore, my business partner is NOT retired, so I’ll back him up as needed.

© 2012 – 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.