Monthly Archives: September 2012

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, 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, 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, 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, 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, All rights reserved.

Do You Want It So Bad You Can Taste It?

When people tell me they are thinking about consulting, I often share this story with them. It  helped me on several occasions, including making my own personal JumpToConsulting.

In high school, I worked as a “soda jerk” at the drugstore in our small town. Since we were next door to the town doctor, he often stopped by for a soda or malt. He was an interesting fellow, and we would chat about various things.

One time, I asked what prompted him to go into medicine. He suddenly got serious, and then responded:

“I don’t know where this conversation is going, Daryl, but if you are thinking about medicine, let me share some advice. I love medicine, and I’m glad I chose to go this route. But is was a lot of work — much more than I ever thought it would be.

So, if don’t want it so bad you can taste it, don’t even start.”

Actually, I wasn’t interested in a medical career, and had already decided on engineering. But it was not going to be easy, either academically or financially. His advice often rang in my ears as I pursued my engineering studies at the university.

Did I still want it so bad I could taste it? The answer was always yes.

Almost twenty years later I made my personal JumpToConsulting, as a full time consulting engineer. There had been a lot of work to get to that point — and like the doc, it had taken more effort that I thought it would.

There had been a false start a few years earlier, and then, on the first day in full time practice, (October 1987), the stock market crashed. It was panic time. What should I do?  Grovel perhaps, and try to get my old job back? But then I recalled the old doc’s advice:

Did I still want it so bad I could taste it? The answer was still yes.

That was 25 years ago. The consulting part of my career has been particularly satisfying and rewarding. It wasn’t always easy, and it was even scary at times.

But overall, it has been great fun.

So, if you are thinking about making the JumpToConsulting (or any business venture for that matter) ask yourself if you are REALLY committed.

Do YOU want it so bad you can taste it?

© 2012 – 2017, All rights reserved.