Yearly Archives: 2015

2015 Annual Review…

Another year about gone, 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 each year challenges others to do the same. Great idea!

So as always, I’ll review three categories:

But first, a quick overview…

The JumpToConsulting project is now FIVE years old. The catalysts were questions by my older son, questions by 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 is now almost FORTY years old, which 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 made me both location independent and financially independent. Best of all, it allowed me to practice my profession as an Electrical Engineer in a ways I didn’t even imagine as a young engineer.

The EMI-GURU project 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 almost 40 years in the consulting business!

LOOKING BACK on 2015…

Jump-to-Consulting – The blog is up to 185 posts. Had planned on more but got sidetracked with my business partner’s cancer. Now back on track, with at least one post per week. Still have well over 100 ideas for new posts.

Not many readers (it is a pretty tight niche), but it has helped several Jumpers. So don’t be bashful — your questions and feedback mean a lot, and they inspire me to keep going.

EMI-GURU – Sad news here. My good friend and business partner of almost 40 years passed away in April from pancreatic cancer. It was a total surprise. Some days I feel like Laurel without Hardy, or Mutt without Jeff. I usually advise against partnerships, but ours was special. I’ll address partnerships in a future post.

As a result, I’ve ceased most consulting, and refer business to select colleagues. I remain involved with the technical classes, something I always enjoyed. Not ready to totally quit. More details at EMIGURU.

Personal – Although a crazy year, still put on about 8000 miles in the RV, with trips to visit grandkids in MN and CT. Also had several weekend trips with friends.

Moved back to our house, after the less than successful patio home experiment. Lesson learned – beware of HOAs (home owner’s associations.)

Sami the rescue mutt continues to bring joy, along with daily exercise as my “personal trainer.”  But due to the stress, the weight crept up about 15# as I fell off the SEC (Stop Eating Crap) diet. You just can’t fool Mother Nature.

LOOKING FORWARD to 2016…

Jump-to-Consulting – Keep on blogging, with at least one post per week. Also considering several other enhancements that were sidetracked in 2015. Watch my blog for more details. Better yet, sign up for the newsletter, or drop me a line!

EMI-GURU – Continue teaching technical classes, but not more than once month. There is nothing like seeing a younger engineer (and even an old timer) suddenly “get it.”

Personal – Spend time reading, writing, and traveling in our little RV. Restart the SEC diet. Get back into ham radio. Play with the mutt, and just goof off more!

Wishing you all the best in 2016! And THANK YOU for reading my blog.

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Three choices…Accept … Change … or Leave…

On the fence about whether to stay or leave your present job? Here is some advice I was given many years ago as a young engineer.

In any situation, you have three choices … accept things as they are … change them … or leave…

Really quite simple. I applied this test several times, and several times ultimately ended up leaving. But only after trying to change things for the better. But as my career progressed, I eventually realized I was never going to be a good corporate rat.

Not all cases of leaving were precipitated by an inability to change things. To wit:

  • Laid off once when the company fell on hard times. Couldn’t change that.
  • Fired once when the boss decided to replace me with a buddy who didn’t have the cajones to join the start up at the beginning. Should have left earlier.
  • Left to make a career change from pure engineering into sales. No way to make that change with the current employer.
  • Left after a “less than stellar” review suggested my efforts (and changes) were neither fully understood nor appreciated. Decided not to accept it.
  • And finally, made my JumpToConsulting, leaving a company I liked but driven by the opportunity to follow a dream – and to make my own changes without the politics.

In the end, this simple “test” helped me make several critical career decisions. No agonizing — just applied logic and analysis.

Hope it helps you too – whether you are making a JumpToConsulting or not.

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Ten Tips For Better Technical Writing…

Writing technical articles (or white papers) can be very effective marketing methods. They create both credibility and visibility at low cost, and can produce high results. With over 200 articles, it certainly worked at Kimmel Gerke Associates!

Getting articles published, however, takes time and effort. It may seem mysterious at first, but help is on the way — thanks to Bob Bly, an engineering colleague turned very successful copywriter. (Click here to see Bob’s “success story.”)

I just purchased his recent e-book “Marketing with Articles” and found it filled with practical nuts and bolts information on both writing and publishing technical articles. Even though I’m no novice, I consider it $29 well spent.

Here is an excerpt from this 129 page guide. Print this out and review it the next time you write anything technical — article, white paper, report, or…

TEN TIPS FOR BETTER TECHNICAL WRITING
by Robert Bly

I. Know your readers. Are you writing for engineers? managers? laymen?

2. Write in a clear. conversational style. Write to express – not impress.

3. Be concise. Avoid wordiness. Omit words that do not add to your meaning.

4. Be consistent … Especially in the use of numbers. symbols. and abbreviations.

5. Use jargon sparingly. Use technical terms only when there are no simpler words that can better communicate your thoughts.

6. Avoid big words. Do not write “utilize” when “use” will do just as well. (My personal pet peeve…)

7. Prefer the specific to the general. Technical readers are interested in solid technical information and not in generalities. Be specific.

8. Break the writing up into short sections. Short sections. paragraphs. and sentences are easier to read than long ones.

9. Use visuals. Graphs, tables, photos, and drawings can help get your message across.

10. Use the active voice. Write “John performed the experiment,” to “The experiment was performed by John.” The active voice adds vigor to writing.

As a bonus, you can start doing this NOW – even if you have not yet made your own JumpToConsulting. Done right, it poses no threat to current employers, and may even enhance your credibility with your bosses.

So read it, and then get busy with YOUR articles. Yes, you can do it!

And thank you, Bob, for sharing your wisdom, and keeping it so economical!

“Marketing with Articles”, an e-book by Bob Bly (Copywriter/Consultant), 2014, $29
Order Here: www.getfamouswritingarticles.com


Disclosure – I have NO affiliation with Bob, and receive NOTHING in return – other than the satisfaction of sharing a valuable resource.


Past articles you may find of interest:

-Lead Generator #1 – Write Articles

-Lead Generator #2 – Develop White Papers

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Trust, but verify…

Here is a reply left at one of my favorite blogs, A Satisfying Journey,  where fellow Arizona blogger Bob Lowry muses about trust.

He cites a Pew Research survey that shows trust in government is at an all time low. He also cites examples of the lack of trust in institutions, and even marriages.

But Bob ends on a positive note, and asks what we can do to reverse these disturbing trends. Here are my comments:

Got some good advice on this topic 30+ years ago from Marv, a successful businessman who was a bit of a mentor.

He confided that he used to be distrustful, and how that often put him in a foul mood. Then he decided to change his view.

He said, “I used to assume people were out to cheat me. Now I assume people are basically good and honest. Turns out this is true most of the time. But if someone does cheat me, I immediately break off the relationship. I’m much happier, and I spend very little time worrying.”

I use this approach myself. But having been burned, I’m still careful. If somebody lies or cheats, I’m done with them. Not sure who said it, but I also like the advice “Trust…but verify.”

Consulting is about trusting relationships. You need to trust your clients, and they need to trust you.

Sadly, once in while someone will violate that trust. Phony bankruptcies or non-payment, anyone? But that has only happened here a couple of times in 30+ years, proving trust still works most of the time.

Finally, never violate a trust. Once lost, you can never get it back!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Avoid snarky political comments…

Time for a mini-rant.

With the political season in full swing, the snarky comments flow on the Internet. But as a consultant, not a good idea to publicize your views, no matter how tempting.

This post was inspired by a recent comment on a popular business blog. One guy took a cheap political shot totally unrelated to the discussion. Not only did it contribute nothing, it made him look like an immature fool.

Just out of curiosity, I visited his web site, thinking it might explain things. The site (a book store) was not political, so he unnecessarily alienated half his prospective readers/buyers.

As a strategy, leaving snarky comments might make sense if you were trying to attract those who share your views. For example, if you were selling a political book or raising political funds. Or perhaps as a political  “consultant”…

But if not, why take the risk?

Best to avoid politics, religion, and other volatile topics. And just good manners not to dump on another person’s website.

End of mini-rant.

P.S. I considered commenting on this breach of etiquette, but decided not to feed the trolls. Suggest you not feed them either 🙂

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Do you need a public office???

It depends… If your clients come to your office, it probably makes sense… If you go to your clients, it probably just wastes money.

In the first case, a public office adds a level of professionalism, and keeps you out of trouble with home owners associations or zoning boards. But don’t get carried away – a modest space will do just fine for the solo practitioner.

In the second case, a spare bedroom works fine. You should, however, set aside a dedicated space for your office. Working on the dining room table gets old very fast. It can also be disruptive to family life.

Some people, however, simply need a separate place to work – regardless of client contact. And some need the outside human contact that an office brings. This is often true for those migrating from the larger corporate environment.

The most important thing when starting out is to conserve resources. You don’t need fancy digs with a prestige address — you just need a safe quiet place to work with adequate resources (desk, computer, telephone, file cabinets, etc.) You are selling your capabilities, not fancy brick and mortar.

Here are some examples I’ve seen over the years:

(1) Kimmel Gerke Associates (yours truly) – Since we almost never had clients visit us, my business partner and I set up separate offices in spare bedrooms.

While we once considered sharing an office, we were both traveling so much it didn’t make sense. Besides, the telephone and the Internet worked fine to stay in contact. And we both liked our twenty foot commutes.

Our “office managers” were our wives, so we truly ran a “mom and pop” operation. Not for everyone, but it worked very well for us.

(2) Advertising A one person agency, this consultant leased about 100 square feet of space from a print shop. I used her services with good success many years ago after a misfire with a fancy downtown agency. Hire the person, not the office.

That was all the space she needed, plus the shop provided a phone line with a receptionist. It was mutually beneficial, as the print shop now could offer additional services. Besides, she did all her printing with her landlord.

(3) Sales consultant – Another one person firm, this friend leased space in a restaurant, which I found quite clever.

His office had a separate entrance on a lower walk out level. The rent was very attractive, as this was bonus income for the restaurant, and parking was never a problem. And he always had a place to take clients for lunch.

(4) Attorney – My estate attorney is located in building with other small professional firms.

He has about 300 square feet, divided into two rooms. The back room is his legal office, with the appropriate lawyer’s desk, credenza, and meeting table. The front room is the reception area with the requisite legal library, with a desk for his office manager (his wife.)

The office is nicely appointed, but not pretentious. His fees reflect the lower overhead too. I discovered him after being gouged by a large law firm with fancy digs and high overhead.

(5) Web design My web designer is also located in a building with other small firms.

He has about 200 square feet with a couple of desks for he and his office manager (once again, his wife.) He has a back office in Nepal (where he grew up) so this space is modest but more than adequate. He recently became a US citizen, and is doing very well – the classic immigrant success story.

He started out working from home, but with the birth of two children, he got “kicked out” of his office. He is still close to home, but is not distracted by family activities.

(5) Consulting engineer – Now, a not so successful example story from many years ago.

When we started out as consulting engineers, this refugee from a large government agency told us we MUST get an office. After all, HIS office was located downtown with a prestigious address. He even chided us for working out of our homes.

Within the next year, he went bankrupt.

So, as you consider YOUR JumpToConsulting, do YOU need a public office? Weigh the decision carefully. Unless you are seeing outside clients (or you simply need the private space,) I generally advise against it. But if you do decide on a public office, I’ve shared some clever (and inexpensive) solutions.

Conserve those resources — you can always move to a public office later. Unless you are like me, and just love that twenty foot commute!

P.S. – I once asked a fellow consultant sitting next to me on a cross country flight where he had his office. He looked out the window, grinned, and replied, “Well, today it is about 30,000 feet over Denver…”

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Pursue the Fortune 500…

Here is a response I sent to a newsletter from Bob Bly, the direct-mail/copywriting guru. Bob is a fellow engineer turned successful marketing consultant many years ago.

I subscribe to his free newsletter (and have also bought some products) and find them useful and interesting.

The topic that promoted my response was Bob’s recommendation to pursue Fortune 500 clients. When starting out, you may be intimidated by the “big guys.”  Don’t be — they often make the best clients. As Bob pointed out they have deeper pockets… pay higher fees… and have more repeat assignments. They are loyal, too.

Here is my reply:

Hi Bob,

The Fortune 500 companies have been the best clients for our engineering consulting business too.They pay their bills, and bring you back again (assuming you do a good job in the first place.)

Sorry to say that the worst clients have been fellow consulting firms. Had to wait almost a year to get paid by one – their cash flow was abysmal as they were waiting on their clients. After that, we got advance payments from consulting firms.

Smaller firms were somewhere in the middle. If over about 200 employees, they were usually safe. One such smaller firm, however, was owned by a well known “politically connected” equity firm, and stuck us for $10K in a phony bankruptcy.

So I agree with your recommendations. Just because you are an independent practitioner, doesn’t mean you can’t play with the big boys. And once in, they can become very good clients.

Bob was featured here as a past success story – read it here.  You can subscribe to his free newsletter here.

P.S. The Fortune 1000 is pretty safe too. Even the bankruptcy was an anomaly, but I am still cautious of privately held firms. (Once burned – twice shy.)  

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

A Veteran’s Day Salute…

Here is a salute to my late brother-in-law.  It really has nothing to do with consulting, but everything to do with being a gracious human being.

It is also a salute to all who have served. Thank you!

P.S. – Fifty years ago this week I was a young engineering student on my way to becoming an Air Force officer (AFROTC). A serious car accident suddenly changed that.

My career went in a different direction, and eventually I ended up as a consulting engineer where I worked on many defense projects –including those for the Air Force.

Life is funny that way…

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Be approachable…

This post was inspired by a popular RV blog I’ve followed and enjoyed for several years. The author added this to a recent blog post:

PRIVACY POLICY  AT OUR CAMPS:  NO VISITORS, NO DROP-INS, NO PHOTOS,  NO EXCEPTIONS.  THANK YOU.

This accompanied a terse reply to an RV newbie who expressed hope in meeting her, as our blogger had inspired and informed the newbie with her blog. I found it hurtful.

While there is likely something that precipitated this, I still respectfully disagree. Anyone who RVs knows the culture encourages cordiality.

No, you don’t have to become best friends, but being friendly is the order of the day. We’ve had many a pleasant conversation with our RV neighbors. Found great places to eat,visit, and camp too!

Unfortunately, I’ve seen similar behavior with consultants – to their detriments. It may be unintended, but such behavior can come across as arrogance. Not good. Remember, people buy from those they know, LIKE, and trust.

In our case, we long had a formal policy to be approachable. As older engineers, we were particularly worried about intimidating younger engineers, so we took positive steps.

  • We responded right away to email or phone questions (at no charge.)
  • We welcomed newbies at trade shows or other events (always good for a beer.)
  • We shared advice on becoming consultants (several have joined the ranks – yea!)

We knew it worked one day when I ran across a quote on a professional forum. Asking for a referral, the response was “Call Kimmel Gerke Associates. Not only do they know what they are doing, but they are very easy to work with.” You can not buy advertising like that!

Later, that sentiment was expressed when my business partner passed away early this year. He was a quiet introvert, yet praise came in from around the world (see eulogy.) I’m still hearing from colleagues who treasured his friendly humility, grace, and approachability.

So be approachable — and work at it too. Keep your ego in check. Not only is it good business, but it is also just being a good human being!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Five Things to Consider for a New Practice…

Here are five questions to ask yourself when starting a consulting practice — or any small business. This post was inspired by an answer to a business post on franchising vs independence.  Good advice for new consultants too.

(1) Is it interesting and motivating? There are consulting opportunities everywhere, but you will do much better and be more productive if you enjoy what you are doing. Done right, it won’t even seem like work – at least most of the time 🙂

(2) Is the market big enough? I’ve emphasized identifying your niches, but make sure the niches are not too narrow. Can you identify multiple potential clients, not just one or two? On the other hand, are there too many players in your niches? You don’t want to get lost in the crowds. (We started with two part-time contract clients, and ramped up from there.)

(3) What make you different and unique? Even if you are in a generic area like accounting, what is special and unique about your practice?  What sets you apart from the competition, and why should clients choose YOU? (Think about those niches...)

(4) Will the need/market endure? You don’t want to jump in just as the bubble is about to burst. Ask where the market going, but be prepared for changes. Watch for changes, and adapt as needed. (My consulting practice today is very different from 30+ years ago.)

 (5) Last, but not least, can you make money? Maybe this should be first, since if you can’t make money, why do it? This is true for non-profits too, where you still have expenses that need to be met. (Consulting is a business, not a charity.)

Five simple questions, but worthy of serous consideration. Unlike the inspiration post, franchising is not an option. If you are making a JumpToConsulting, you are almost always starting from the ground up. But if successful, it is worth it!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

How much is enough?

How much IS enough? The question still haunts me…

Here are three stories. All three affected my thinking. Perhaps they will affect yours.

Story 1…

The question of enough was posed by a fellow consultant several  years ago. His wife had just been diagnosed with cancer, and we were talking after a professional society meeting. He was doing some serious introspection, and as a friend and colleague I lent an ear.

“How much is enough?” he mused. He had worked hard, was successful, and had enough in the bank. His immediate priority was enjoying whatever time his wife might have.

So he backed off on the business, and they went on some cruises. She responded well to treatment, and happily, she is fine today. But it did reset his priorities on what was enough.

Story 2…

My first encounter with enough goes back 45 years. My new boss hosted a Christmas party at his new house on a lake. It was a beautiful place in a beautiful setting. Being recently married, I thought how nice it might be to someday have similar digs.

Later, I thanked him for the party and complimented him on his new house. He smiled, and then offered some fatherly advice.

“Thank you,” he said. “It is nice. It makes my wife happy too. But there is a downside. We put all our money in the house, and as a result, we can’t do anything else.” He continued, “You are just starting out. Be careful about committing to a big fancy house.”

I decided that our modest house was enough. Each time we moved we stuck with enough. And today we have still have enough. 

Story 3…

My next encounter with enough came 12 years later. I was working for a successful entrepreneur, who net worth somewhere around $50 million.

An old German who had escaped Hitler, he came to America and worked as an engineer. Following a dream, he started a business in a garage. A combination of working hard and being in the right place at the right time with the right product led to phenomenal success.

But he was still  an old engineer at heart. One evening at a trade show, he hosted a bunch of us for dinner. After a few beers (after all, he was an old German), the subject of how much was enough came up.

He said, “You know, a couple of million is probably enough for most of us. How can you spend it all? After that, you are only keeping score.”

Sadly, he and his wife divorced on his way to his riches. Was it worth it? Not in my book.

Finally, how much is enough for you? Thanks to starting my own consulting practice combined with prudent living, today I can say I have enough.

© 2015 – 2017, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Join the CBM Club…

I was first introduced to the CBM Club in 2012. What a novel concept!

In August 2011, we bought a small motorhome from Born Free in Humboldt, IA.

At a rally in 2012, I met John Dodgen, the 85 years old founder of Born Free back in the 1960s. What a delightful man, with a continual twinkle in his eye. Over the years, John and his family built the company into a small but highly regarded RV manufacturer.

At one point, I had the chance to talk with John over hamburgers. Always curious about small businesses, I asked him how he got started.

He smiled, and told me his story that went something like this:

After my brothers and I returned to Iowa after World War II, we realized that we could not all share the family farm. Liking the area, I decided to start a small company to manufacturer farm machinery.

One of our most successful products was a special trailer for feeding livestock. A niche product, we we eventually saturated the market. Furthermore, we made them so durable they didn’t wear out.

So I went to my board. I told them I wanted to take the company in a new direction. After much deliberation, I wanted to join the CBM Club.

At this point, John waited for my puzzled response. OK, so what is the CBM Club???

Corn, Beans, and Miami. You see, I’d noticed many farmers buying our machinery grew corn and beans, and then they headed to Miami for the winter. I wanted to do that too.

So I suggested making an RV. A highly durable RV, using the knowledge and experience gained making farm machinery. The first model was a slide in on a pickup truck. It was pretty heavy, so we added a tag axle for support. That was unique to the industry.

Not long after, we added roll bars. This was based on hearing of a fatal RV accident. I directed my design team to figure out how to add this important safety feature.

A few years later, we started building motorhomes. We focused on small truck based units (Class C), and built them with very high quality. Including the roll bars – never been a fatal accident in a Born Free, of which I am proud.

So what lessons can we glean from this for consulting?
Pick a niche. Don’t try to be everything to everybody
Be flexible. Be ready to change direction, but try to leverage on past experience.
Deliver high quality. The market may be smaller, but your customers will love you.
Don’t compromise. On safety, ethics, or anything else. Your reputation is key.
Have fun. I will always treasure the story of the CBM Club.

John recently passed away, and will be missed by all — his family, his company, and his customers. What better legacy to leave behind. Our condolences – RIP John.

P.S. –Yes, we love our little Born Free “Built for Two!”  Heading back in it from Minnesota (where there are some grandkids) to Arizona (where this is no snow.)

Our version of the CBM Club –joined as a consultant.   

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Consulting lessons from Pope Francis…

Like many others, I was enchanted by the Pope’s recent visit.  And I even gleaned some consulting lessons. To wit:

(1) Be likeable — Pope Francis radiates likeability. Nobody wants to listen to a jerk.

As consultants, this means being genuinely interested in your clients. It means really liking them, and not being mean, snarky, or vindictive.

(2) Be approachable –-Pope Francis rode in simple vehicles, rather than fancy limos.

Remember the auto CEOs and their jets? Many are angered by power when it is abused.

As consultants, we must be careful not to intimidate or annoy. Early on, we realized that as older engineers we might intimidate younger engineers. So we made it a formal business policy to be approachable. It works.

(3) Be honest — Pope Francis spoke truth to power — to Congress — and to the United Nations. Some people didn’t like it, but he let the chips fall where they may.

As consultants, that is what we are paid to do. To speak the truth. To identify and fix problems, not to praise or to suck up.

(4) Be flexible — Pope Francis made changes, even in the face of resistance. He didn’t just talk about it – he did it.

Change is often hard – particularly cultural change. Lot’s of inertia, not to mention politics. Those who enjoy advantages (fair or otherwise) don’t want to give them up.

As consultants, we are often called to be the agents of change.

(5) Be forgiving —  As Pope Francis would tell you, nobody’s perfect. Those genuinely seeking forgiveness will be forever grateful.

As consultants, accept those imperfections (including your own), forgive, and move on. You will be a better person for it.

(6) Be humble — Probably the Pope’s the most important lesson. Stories are that he was not always so humble, but worked to learn humility. That speaks volumes about this man.

As consultants, keep your ego in check – you are not the center of the universe. I’ve seen too many cases where a felllow consultant’s ego killed the relationship.

No, I’m not Catholic, but I sincerely respect this man.  He is a breath of fresh air. I think he’d be one fine consultant. But maybe he already is!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Buy Lunch for a Vendor…

Want some quick insight and exposure into a market? Offer to buy a vendor lunch. After all, they spend their lives out in the marketplace.

This is particularly effective in niche markets. You have identified your potential niches, right? If not, review this post.

A new consulting colleague in Phoenix did this with good success.

Upon hanging out his shingle, he took a local sales engineer to lunch to pick his brain about the market. In return, he offered to help the sales engineer with technical support (gratis.)

It was, and is, a win-win situation. As the old saying goes, one hand washes the other.

On a personal note, I had that happen to me as a new sales engineer.

When a customer called about lunch, I figured I was going to hear about our delivery problems. It had been a hard slog and some of his key projects were in jeopardy.

I planned to buy lunch.

But instead, he insisted on buying lunch. Then he and his boss thanked me for my efforts on their behalf. What a pleasant surprise!

As a result, guess who got very fast response to future questions and concerns? We all like to be appreciated.

 So treat vendors and sales people in your market with respect. And if you get the chance, offer to buy lunch!

P.S. Know someone who might benefit from JumpToConsulting?  Please forward a link.  Thanks!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Small town living – a path to financial independence?

Here is a reply I left recently at my favorite financial blog, Mr. Money Mustache.  Pete, a fellow engineer, spent the last several years challenging and cajoling people to become financially independent.

He “retired” at age 30, and now does what he wants with no financial worries. Lives a nice lifestyle in nice digs, too.

His formula is simple — cut consumption and increase savings. When your income from investments equals your expenses — viola — you are now financially independent. He did it in seven years, and you can too.

So what does this have to do with consulting? You don’t need to be fully financially independent to make your JumpToConsulting, but you DO need some reserves. Assume at least six months with no income.

So if you are overconsuming and living pay check to pay check. you can’t make a JumpToConsulting, or any other jump. You first need to cut your expenses and change your mindset and your lifestyle!

One way to do this is to move to a small town. That is what my older son (the inspiration for this blog) did this year. Here is his story:

Don’t overlook small towns – particularly those about 100-150 miles from a major city.

After living in the city, my older son recently moved to a small town in Minnesota – population 5000. About 100 miles from Minneapolis, it is beyond commuting distance so it is no longer a suburb. But it still close enough for city resources (hospitals etc.) or a big city “fix” if needed.

They bought a nice house for 1/2 the cost in the city. The grade school and a park are across the street, and the high school is a few blocks away. The kids love it – they can bike all over town with their new friends. His commute is under ten minutes of country driving. His wife works in the high school as a teacher’s aide, and loves it.

They were concerned about leaving the city, but have been pleasantly surprised. Small town festivals –wineries — microbreweries — parks with uncrowded campgrounds. It may be rural, but there is still plenty to do. And the big city is still only two hours away.

Looking for a job change, he stumbled – almost by accident – on an executive opportunity with a small medical manufacturer. The company was delighted to get someone with his talent and experience, and they pay him accordingly. The school was delighted to hire his wife too. Big city wages with small town cost of living — how great is that? Plus the quality of life.

These opportunities abound, but you must seek them out. So if you are not yet financially independent, consider this as one way to speed things up — and enjoy the journey immediately. My son admits he never dreamed they would live like this.

A few more details on my son. After taking a company through a complex acquisition, he no longer had a job. Small thanks for helping grow the firm by 10x in a couple of years as their financial guru.

So he took his MBA in finance, his experience, and his proceeds and hung out his shingle as a consultant. The early discussions with him were the catalyst for this blog.

Although he was building the business, it was going slower than hoped. When one of his clients make him an offer he couldn’t refuse as the VP of Finance for a start-up, he jumped at it. Besides, like his dad, he has a love of small business.

But after a couple of years, it became obvious the start-up was stalling. Furthermore, there was friction with the founder, who was unwilling or unable to make necessary changes. (Been there myself.) So rather than wait for the axe to fall, he started a job search.

One interesting opportunity was with a medical device manufacturer in a rural community. As both he and his wife grew up in the city, there was some reluctance to purse it. Still, the job sounded interesting, so they decided to go in a new direction. So far, so good.

I’m proud of my son for taking that chance, and for working hard, like a good consultant, to make a positive impact on the world.

I’m also proud of his brother. A financial attorney in a large Manhattan firm, he recently took a chance and initiated a special project on alternate currencies. As their “Bitcoin-guru”, he too is working very hard to make a positive impact on the world.

Well done, both of you!

P.S. Thanks to the Internet and Fed-X, one can easily consult from small towns. And depending on your niche, you may even find plenty of clients right in you own backyard. 

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Thought Leadership – Is is really necessary?

The short answer — NO! 

But you DO need to be able to help your clients. Time for a mini-rant.

If you are like me, you are probably weary of hearing about how you MUST become a though leader to succeed in business. Unless, of course, you are pitching books or programs on thought leadership.

But let’s back up. Just what is thought leadership, anyway? Wikipedia says a thought leader is “an individual or firm recognized as an authority in a specialized field, and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.” Gee – that sounds like a consultant to me.

My big concern is the concept may hold people back. As in, “If I’m not a thought leader, how can I break into consulting?” Don’t let this business jargon bamboozle you.

Think about it. You doctor has specialized expertise that can help you. But do most doctors consider themselves thought leaders? I doubt it. Most just consider themselves professionals doing their jobs — helping their patients.

Now some doctors, such as specialists, may be considered thought leaders. When my wife had an unusual kidney condition, we consulted with one of the world’s experts at the Mayo Clinic. He fit my definition of a thought leader. Even then, he was modest to a fault. (Incidentally, he quickly diagnosed the issue, while ruling out any serious problems.)

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to and becoming a thought leader. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and you DON’T need it to get started as a consultant.

You DO need to identify your niches, and you DO need to be competent and experienced in those niches. In certain areas, you may need to be licensed.

OK, so I don’t need to be a thought leader to start, but how can I eventually become one anyway? Writing and speaking are two good avenues.

Magazine articles and white papers are a good start. A book is even better, preferably published by recognized publisher.

Speeches and seminars also good avenues. All these take time, however, so don’t expect to be vaulted overnight into a thought leadership position.

But don’t overlook just doing a good job for your clients. Experience is a big part of becoming a thought leader, and the only way to get experience is to  DO it — over and over.

Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to really master a subject. Some pundits dispute the numbers, but the fact is it takes time and effort to become an expert – or a thought leader.

As an example, we started Kimmel Gerke Associates almost 30 years ago as a couple of reasonably competent engineers. To market ourselves, we started writing magazine articles and doing technical presentations. At that time, we did not consider ourselves though leaders.

Over time, this eventually led to 200+ articles, three books, hundreds of consultations, and training 10,000+ students through public and in-house seminars.

At some point, I suppose, we became thought leaders in our field – not that it really mattered to either of us anyway. But that came later, not right away.

NO, you don’t need to be a “thought leader” to make your JumpToConsulting. But the sooner you do make the jump, the the sooner you can become a thought leader – if that is even your goal in the first place.

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Should you take equity in lieu of cash?

Here is a reply to a post by Michael Zipursky over at Consulting Success, where Michael discusses the pros and cons (mostly cons) of accepting equity or shares as payment for services.

Either way, both Michael and I do NOT recommend this. 

I completely agree! Never took stock, nor did I ever agree to work for free on proposals, with the idea that I would get the business if the company won the project (sometimes suggested by defense contractors.)

If asked, I simply explain that I’m too small to carry anyone for free. Better to pursue paying jobs than to lose opportunities being tied up with freebies. Besides, if they really need you they will find the money.

While I have a soft spot in my heart (or maybe my head) for startups, I’ve avoided them and pursued Fortune 1000 clients instead. Even then I’ve been burned (bankruptcies), but only twice in 28 years. Great post!

As a new consultant, you will run into this sooner or later, particularly with smaller firms. Some are strapped for cash — probably not good clients anyway. Others may be testing you — assuming you are hungry for business.

Neither are a good deal. Better to focus your time on real paying prospects.

Remember, you are a professional, just like your dentist or doctor. Very doubtful they would go for this either.

 

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

What do you do when it no longer works?

Received an email a while back from a fellow engineer whose consulting firm is struggling. The question was what to do now?

First, a little background. To protect privacy, I’ll be purposefully vague.

He started a consulting firm some years ago, but it recently began to slide. Rather than give up, he kept putting money into the business – but with a negative impact on his finances and retirement. Cash flow is now a key concern.

So the question posed to me was not about starting a consulting practice, but rather –  What do you do when it no longer works?

That is a tough one. Here is my sanitized reply:

Wish I could say I had never heard your story before. Sadly, I have. The good news is things usually get better, but not without some pain.

Here are three examples:

  • Former neighbors (in their 50s) who owned two small restaurants for many years. When the business slump hit in 2008, they refinanced their house to keep things going. In the process, they lost the businesses and almost lost the house. But they are now recovering, as they went back into the corporate world. The good news is that they found jobs where they could use their valuable skills and knowledge.
  • My older son (in his 40s) who was ousted from his position (after an acquisition.) Small thanks for helping grow a small company by 10X and handling the complex financial details of the transaction. So he took his proceeds and hung out his shingle as a business consultant, but within a year it was obvious it wasn’t working fast enough to provide an adequate income. The good news was that one of his clients (a start-up) hired him.
  • Me (in my 30s). Fired one day from a start-up I helped launch, I hung out my shingle. That only lasted a couple of months until I realized it wasn’t going to work – for now anyway.  So I went to “Plan B” and found another corporate engineering job. Of course, that was easier then as I was much younger.

Two common thread on all three cases were:

  • Recognizing the business was not making it (at least fast enough to provide sustenance)
  • Changing direction (while still gaining valuable experience and knowledge.)

My first thought is to see if any firms have an interest in hiring, even on a part-time or sub-contract basis. These firms might be other consulting firms, past/present clients, or even vendors serving  his technical community.

Your knowledge, contacts and experience are valuable. This would let you focus on the technical side of the business and not worry about the sales/marketing/management side of the business.

A second thought is to check with technical contracting firms. Some are small, and some are large (like Manpower.) I know several engineering colleagues who have gone this route.

One caveat – do NOT pay anybody ANY money up front. The legitimate firms make their money when they place engineers with their clients. Many also offer group insurance and related benefits.

In both cases, the business still exists – just in a different form.  Incidentally, nothing wrong with changing directions. Sometimes it is better to stop the bleeding, and start the recovery.

As a fellow boomer, these approaches are likely more successful than seeking a full time position. Many companies want to hire the younger people full-time, but are willing to take on us old-timers part-time. Of course, if you find a suitable full-time position, go for it!

My sincere best wishes, and feel free to write again if you have additional questions or comments.

If you are in this situation, don’t despair — it took me two tries to make it as a consultant, and four tries for the training part of our business. And there have been several ups and downs along the way.

Finally, there are no guarantees for success in any business, consulting or otherwise. Change is inevitable, and the key is to be flexible.

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Are you seeking freedom… or power?

This dilemma is often faced by those considering a business of their own –– often at mid-career. Should I strike out on my own, or should I stay and climb the corporate ladder?

There is no right answer. You must first seek to know yourself. It is YOUR decision — nobody else can make it for you. NOT your family-NOT your friends-NOT your colleagues.

Either way, there is a price to be paid. Both paths require time and effort — often much more than you realize. Both may result in different levels of compensation… different levels of family time… different levels of overall life satisfaction. Consider the tradeoffs.

In my case, I chose freedom through consulting, with no regrets. At the same time, I’ve had colleagues who chose corporate power with success. No regrets there either. I’ll share specific examples later. But first, a short story…

In ancient China, two brothers went separate ways. One became a monk, and the other became a civil servant.

Many years later they met in the market where the monk was eating his bowl of rice as he sat on the ground.

Said the now successful civil servant to the monk, “If you had learned to bow to the king, you would no longer need to eat rice.”

To which the monk replied, “If you had learned to eat rice, you would no longer need to bow to the king.”

Here are three modern examples…

(1) One colleague chose the corporate route. He worked hard and eventually rose to the level of VP. Along the way, he made significant contributions to the company, and was amply rewarded. He recently retired, and now engages in philanthropy and angel investing.

(2) Another colleague chose the freedom route. After becoming increasingly disillusioned with big corporate life, he founded a small but very successful company. He is still running the company, and is having a blast.

(3) A college classmate was rising fast on the corporate route, but it didn’t really fit. One night he awoke spitting up blood from an ulcer. The stress of being a square peg in a round hole finally caught up with him. Fortunately, his enlightened company let him take a step back, and he finished his career developing several successful products while mentoring numerous young engineers.

Three stories, three happy endings…

And in the third case, nothing wrong or disgraceful with making a change. Had his company been less enlightened, he might well have succeeded with another company, or even as a consultant. (He did moonlight for a while to feed his passion to create rather than manage.)

Incidentally, all three made these decisions (as I did) at about age 40. The late Howard Shenson once noted this is a good age for a mid-career assessment. By that time, you have enough experience to know what you like (and are good at) and what you dislike (and perhaps are not so good at.)

The secret, Shenson said, is to focus on the former and ignore the latter. Unfortunately, many people miss this opportunity for change, and spend the rest of their lives in misery.

This post was prompted by a recent discussion.  I hope this helps if YOU are facing this dilemma. If you opt for freedom, consulting is but one option. It has been great for me!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.