Archive for December, 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.

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

Season’s Greetings…

Merry Christmas, from our family to yours!

Thanks for your support, and for just riding along. Hope you will join us 2013.

Peace — Daryl & Mary

Copyright © 2014, 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, 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!

Copyright © 2014, 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.

Copyright © 2014, 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!

Copyright © 2014, 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!

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