Monthly Archives: August 2015

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.