Archive for March, 2012

Questions from a reader on starting out…

Here is a recent email exchange that I though some of you might find of interest. I’ve hidden the name for confidentiality, but I’m sure S will recognize himself.

Hi Daryl,

My name is S.  I’m also a follower of  your blog. How are you doing with that these days?

I’ve noticed you’re an engineer who had a lifestyle-enabling consulting business. Were you able to liberate yourself with the income and time required to live your ideal lifestyle?

Always love to learn what my fellow community members are up to, and the obstacles they are facing.

S

Hi S,

So far, so good. After 25 years as a full time consulting engineer, I think it might work :-)

Seriously, it has worked well. The consulting business has been a lot of fun — probably more than had I stayed in the corporate environment. Freedom is more important to me than status or a lot of money. I prefer to be the captain of my own ship, even if it is just a little rowboat.

A couple of secrets I’ve learned. Live below your means, and sock away money for retirement and/or lean times. I draw a relatively low salary to cover living expenses, which usually leaves a bonus at year end for savings and funding a Keogh, etc. This also smoothes out the cash flow, and prevents the lifestyle from rising to the income peaks.

No great obstacles. The biggest initial challenge was bringing in the business, which required a lot of up-front marketing effort. Now that I’m established, that part is easier but it still requires some attention. Kind of like tending a garden.

I assume you are an engineer, too. I’ve found consulting a great way to practice the profession. It took me a while to make it work, but it has been worth it.

Best Wishes,

Daryl

Daryl,

I’m not an engineer… I am however focused on using the recipe to make more free time for myself.

I enjoyed reading your answers. There is one thing that I would like to learn more from you: how did you specifically bring in the business and execute the up-front marketing initially?

Thanks,

S

Hi S,

Ah, the number one question I hear — how do you get the business? The short answer – peddle, peddle, peddle…

Seriously, we have used a number of methods to get business over the years. There is no simple “silver bullet”, and it takes both time and effort. Here are some things we’ve done:

  • Write – articles, newsletters, books
  • Speak – local meetings, national symposiums
  • Network – professional organizations, trade shows
  • Internet – Web site, blog, LinkedIn
  • Collateral – business cards, letterhead, simple brochure

Many of these are discussed in more detail in my blog. Not all have been addressed yet.

We didn’t do all of these at once. We started with writing tutorial articles for the local business magazines and for the “second tier” technical magazines. Both can get you published in 90 days or less. We also got active in our local professional organization.

Probably more important in the very beginning, however, was identifying a couple of potential clients, and then working with them. Our first two major clients were a test lab and a training company. We subcontracted to both of them for several years.

  • For the test lab, we were like substitute teachers, filling in as needed. That meant we did a lot of second and third shift work, often called at the last minute.
  • For the training company, we spent a lot of time on the road the first couple of years. Neither were full time. In our “spare time”, we actively pursued other clients.

So, as you can see, at first it was a lot of work. To be blunt, if your goal is more free time, starting a business may NOT be the way to go. In the early years, you’ll likely work much harder than you ever would with a full time job, and probably make less money.

In closing, I’m fond of analogies. Starting a business is a like the old pioneers who homesteaded on the prairie (as several of my great-grandparents did out in Nebraska.)

  • First, you start out in a dirt (sod) house, made after you busted the sod yourself.
  • Next, you plant a garden & orchard, but you scrape by until they start to produce.
  • Soon after that, you build a barn for your cow and horse, and then work from sunup to sundown to feed and tend them.
  • Finally, if you are lucky (no tornadoes, droughts, or other disasters), in several years you start to get ahead.

But even then, you don’t get rich. Such is the price of freedom to do your own thing. Would I do it again? Absolutely! But it was a LOT of work, with very little free time in the beginning.

Good luck in your pursuits,

Daryl

PS – It just occurred to me that my message might be a bit negative.

Yes, if you want to start a full time consulting practice, plan on a lot of work. On the other hand, if you are looking for a PART TIME practice, and don’t need to make a full time living, then consulting can be a very viable way to make more free time for yourself.

I’m kind of slipping into that mode myself, as I become “semi-retired.” The real goal, of course, is to free up time to do other stuff I want to do – such as this blog.

Daryl,

No worries. I’ve been emailing enough people to hear similarly toned opinions before.

I can currently live on a part-time income while spending the rest of my time on a product (i.e. front-loading my work time right now so that I’m not making decisions based on financial consequences later).

Best wishes to you too,

S

And good luck to all of you! Similar questions?  Drop me an email at daryl (at) jumptoconsulting (dot) com, and maybe you’ll appear here too.

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

Lead Generator #9 – Trade Shows

Done properly, trade shows are a great way to generate leads. Done poorly, they can be a tremendous waste of time and money.

Trade shows represent a unique opportunity for both networking (one-on-one) and/or gaining exposure (one-to-many). And unlike most other methods, trade shows can be very personal. Where else can you spend a few days and be in contact with so many industry leaders, influencers, and potential clients?

A trade show is a business opportunity, not a boondoggle. Corporate employees often see a trade shows as a company paid vacation. As a small business person, however, you simply can’t afford that. Rather than goof off, you need to WORK the trade show. Here are some recommendations:

1. Decide who you want to meet. Industry leaders often attend trade shows. So do influencers, like magazine editors. Want to write for a magazine?  A trade show is an excellent way to make the initial contact. Certainly more personal than a query letter. If you really want to meet someone, make a “date” for breakfast, lunch, or even just coffee.

2. Volunteer to participate. This is a good way to meet the “movers and shakers” in your community. Your help will be appreciated, and you will be remembered.  Just be careful not to bite off more than you can chew, particularly when starting out. As the old saying goes, do a little – do it well — you’ve done a lot.

3. Support the tutorials. If you present, make it a tutorial session rather than a formal paper.  Tutorials expose you to the “newbies” most in need of your services. While others are busy trying to impress their colleagues, you’ll be in front of  potential clients.

4. Visit the vendors. Ask about new products and services in your industry. Don’t spend all your time in technical sessions — you can read the papers later. Furthermore, vendors can be a great source of recommendations to potential clients. I always enjoy my time with vendors.

5. Attend the social events. Remember, “all work and not play…” Besides, this is a great chance to meet people on an informal basis. That includes hitting the bars. Even if you don’t drink, you’ll often find interesting discussions going on — particularly later in the evening. (Offer to buy a round and you will be most welcome to join in.)

6. Exchange business cards. Yes, I know they may see old fashioned in our electronic age, but trade shows are all about live personal contact. After the show, send an e-mail or note to those of interest to you. Invite them to join you on LinkedIn — add them to your data base. Don’t just throw the cards in a pile.

Remember, leads are the lifeblood of the consulting business. No, the world is NOT going to beat a path to your door — you need to light the way. Too many consulting businesses have crashed while waiting for business to walk through the door.

PS- Been a little lax here is going through my list of 20 lead generators. We’ll work on picking up the pace.  In the meantime, any topics you would like to see?

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

Need a Job??? Create Your Own…

This is what 40 attendees of the recent “Start Your Business Workshop” in Chandler AZ are considering. As an aside, all 40 had recently lost their jobs. But rather than sulk or wait for the government to intervene, these 40 budding entrepreneurs were taking matters into their own hands. On a beautiful spring day in Arizona, no less. Bravo, I say!

The workshop was an extension of Laid Off Camp/Phoenix , a program staffed by volunteers intent on helping those who have recently lost their jobs. This special session focused not on getting another job, but on starting your OWN business. It was my privilege to discuss consulting as a small business possibility.

The group (attendees and speakers) ranged in age from the 20′s to 60′s. While I was probably oldest person in the room, my boomer colleagues were well represented. Unfortunately, the new boomer reality is often “Too old to hire — too young to retire.” 

Almost all of the speakers (like me) had been laid off at least once. In addition to offering “nuts and bolts” advice, we also shared our stories — the zigs and zags of starting and building our businesses. The talks were both practical and inspiring.

The session was kicked off by Arizona’s own Pam Slim (Escape From Cubicle Nation.) Her insights are priceless — over the years, she has helped hundreds launch/build successful small businesses of all types. I’ve sung her praises before, and gladly do so again.

The most inspiring talk of the day came from Randy Walters, the founder and owner of Pittsburgh Willy’s Gourmet Hotdogs. Laid off at 53 (boomers take note), Randy had an epiphany while watching a TV commercial. Rather than look for another job, he decided it was time to follow his dream — running a hot dog stand like his father had done in Pittsburgh in the 1930s.

So he plunged in and bought a hot dog cart — but then didn’t sell his first hot dog for six months. He described, with great humor, the Catch-22 bureaucracy along with the bad business advice he chose to ignore (gourmet hotdogs — never work — keep the menu simple–etc.) But Randy stuck with his dream, and five years later, he now has a full restaurant that is a “must visit” here in the Valley of the Sun.

Several people expressed interest in consulting. One was a former HR person, another was a retired teacher interested in tutoring, along with a fellow geek (engineer.) Of course, many of the speakers were consultants, and included a newly minted lawyer, a graphics artist, a former car salesman, a couple of web experts, and an accountant who also runs a women’s exercise studio. What an interesting bunch!

Here were some key points gleaned from the presentations. While several of us emphasized these, it was probably good to hear them repeated.

  • Marketing is key — No, the world won’t beat a path to your door. You’ve got to light the way. Remember, without customers you don’t have a business.  
  • Follow your dream — Don’t compromise, and be true to yourself.  Don’t wake up at 60 wishing…
  • Don’t give up — As Pittsburgh Willy said several times, if one way is blocked, just hunt for another way to get there.
  • Don’t be afraid — Probably the most important. A little fear is perfectly normal, but don’t let it overwhelm you.  And don’t be afraid to ask for help.   

So, if you are looking for a job, why not consider creating your own?  Many of us have already done so — consultants and others — and we’re having a ball.  

P.S.Best wishes to all who attended — yes, you CAN do it!  And while happy to share my perspective, I’m sure I gained more than I gave. Special thanks to organizer Susan Baier (www.audienceaudit.com), who does this as a labor of love. 

Now, off to Pittsburgh Willy’s for a hot dog…

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

Are Engineers Really In Demand?

Here is my reply to a recent IEEE article “Are Engineers Really in Demand?” The authors posed this question in response to a recent  Washington Post story that discussed unemployment among engineers. Being a geek myself,  I was intrigued.

What disturbed me, however, were the comments that followed.  Way too much griping about how the government, big business, or foreigners (H1B visas) were to blame. Whoa!  What happened to being responsible for your own career?

So here was my response:

Lot’s of complaining here. Let me offer an alternate (more positive) view.

After being laid off twice early in my career, I decided to hang out my shingle as a consulting engineer. After 30+ years (25 in full time practice,) I can say it has been great. The technical work is interesting, the pay is better, and the respect is even better yet. Not only that, as you get older, the perception is that your experience is even more valuable — rather refreshing.

The down side is that you no longer have the “security” of a company behind you. But as most of us know, that is a myth anyway. In fact, with consulting it is quite the opposite — no one client can put me out of business.

But you DO need to hustle for the business, something that frightens many engineers. I just look at getting new business as another technical challenge. After all, we’re supposed to be problem solvers, right?

Frankly, I wish more engineers would adopt the mindset of working for themselves, rather than depending on the corporate bean counters for sustenance. If doctors, lawyers, and accountants can be in practice for themselves, why not engineers?

Food for thought. Finally, if you are considering this, get your PE license. You’ll need it to open some doors. Then start hustling — you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. I’ve certainly enjoyed my way of practicing engineering. Good luck!

The results? A bit disappointing. One troll did respond with a rather bizarre comment “… You escape for now. The giant vampire squid of capital is seeking the small leaks next…”  Huh?  Missed the point, or really bitter I guess.

But I shall remain positive. If you are reading this, you are presumably not willing to depend on  “the man” to give you a job.  Creating your own can be a satisfying alternative — consulting or otherwise. You have my encouragement…

P.S. Will do a talk on consulting at the Start Your Own Business Workshop this Saturday in Chandler AZ. The workshop is sponsored by LaidOffCamp, a great program for those who have lost their jobs.

Who knows — maybe we’ll even help launch some new consultants!

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

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