Monthly Archives: April 2016
It gives me great pleasure to introduce our latest success story, Dr. Susan Kimmel – the daughter of my late business partner Bill Kimmel.
Susan received her PhD in Business from the University of Michigan. After trying teaching, Susan decided academia was not for her, so she pursued a career in market research. This eventually led to a position with Guidant Technologies, a leading medical device manufacturer in Minnesota’s “medical alley.”
After watching her dad enjoy the consulting life, she became infected with “The Itch.” Once that happened, there was no turning back. Thanks to her dad’s advice and her own hard work, she and her business partner Beth have run their own very successful consulting firm since 2007.
Here is Susan’s Success Story:
(1) What prompted you to consider consulting (running your own business?) Was there an event, like a layoff, or was it just the itch to be on your own?
Four major factors:
(1) I began doing market research for Guidant (now Boston Scientific) in 2001, and by 2004 was at the top of the market research function there. I had hit the ceiling, with little prospect for additional growth at the company.
(2) During my time at Guidant, I noticed almost no market research suppliers really understood how to do good market research for medical devices. With my background working inside a med device company, I knew few suppliers would be able to match my level of knowledge about the market.
(3) Beth, my current business partner. One day I was (once again) complaining about management when all of the sudden she said that we should go into business together. As we talked it through, it seemed to be a great move for us – both professionally and personally – while giving us more spend time with our young kids.
(4) My dad, Bill Kimmel. He had already”primed the pump” by showing me that it could be done and helped me to understand all of the great things – as well as the drawbacks. I remember him once telling me that I had the disease that would lead me to go out on my own, “but it’s not terminal yet.”
(2) How has it been going? You’ve been at it a while, so obviously you are established.
It’s been fabulous – we’ve done much better than we ever hoped!
I remember going to the bank to open our corporate bank account.There we were, talking to some young kid pushing the paperwork. Just to make conversation, he asks “So how much do you think you’re going to make?”
We look at each other and sort of shrugged, not really knowing how long it would take to be “in the black” – or the point where we would at least make our old salaries.
Then he says “So how much, like $10,000?” We laughed about it later, guessing he was looking at two moms with young kids and thinking we were going to bake cookies or something.
Fortunately, that was NOT the case. We started taking small paychecks within a couple of months, and equaled our old salaries in 2-3 years. I’m saying 3 years because Beth had a baby after year one, and I slowed a bit in year two with two young ones of my own.
We’ve never looked back. We are now even subcontract work to colleagues (often moms).
(3) What do you like MOST about consulting (your own business?)
Consulting plays to my strength – doing the work.
People hire me because they know I can do the work – and do it well. I was recognized for that when employed, but I didn’t do well at managing the politics, which sometimes bit me in the butt.
Sure, I’m still affected by the client politics, but working with multiple clients/companies diversifies the portfolio. No more “I could lose my job” issues.
The other fabulous aspect is the flexibility I can plan long vacations as long as it’s well in advance. I can chaperone my kid’s field trips or take them to music lessons in the day without having to ask someone. I control my time.
(4) What do you like LEAST about consulting (your own business?
The level of responsibility can be scary.
If I mess up something, I need to redo it at my expense (I bid on a project basis most of the time). That could eat up profits and I might end up donating my time.
The buck stops with me. I don’t have a boss to help “fix it”. Knock on wood, I’ve managed to not get burned too much, but the vigilance to minimize that risk can be stressful.
(5) How do you get your clients? (BTW, the number one question I get asked when someone finds out I’m a consultant.)
Luckily for me, getting the work done well at Guidant created a lot of good will for my “brand”.
And while I felt at times like management didn’t really recognize my efforts as much as I’d have liked, in the end it created some great contacts, referrers, and potential clients.
Close to 100% of our client base are from colleagues at Guidant; referrals from those colleagues, or referrals from the referrals.
(6) How do you set your fees? (Second question I get asked.)
As a purchaser of market research at Guidant, I had a pretty good idea of our “market value.”
First I created an outline of competitive pricing for common services we planned to offer. I combine that with an estimate of my time at my internal hourly rate to create a project cost estimate.
The hourly rate has evolved over time, based on discussions with colleagues who do similar work. As a result, I have a pretty good feel for what is market acceptable.
We also subcontract some specialized parts of the market research (this is common, even for larger companies), so of course I get bids from my suppliers and include that in the estimate. .
But I always go back to the “market rate” and compare it to that. I aim to be competitive, but if it is an area of special expertise I will charge more.
So there is some art mixed in there with the science. In the end, the market will give you feedback on whether or not your pricing worked!
(7) How did you decide what to consult about? And why? (Third question I get asked.)
As mentioned earlier, my business partner and I noted that medical device market research was an underserved niche that we are good at – and few others are.
That, and we both love the business. These are cool products that involve high technology, and they help people. So something we like – are good at – and benefits others – kind of a no brainer. Why even think about cookies?
Also, primary market research (we do mostly surveys and in-depth interviews) is an area where we have strong expertise, and something that companies need and are willing to pay.
We found it easier to build and sustain a business in a specific niche, as opposed to colleagues who struck out to do generic marketing.
(8) Lessons learned since you started consulting?
First of all, my dad has once again proved to be a genius. (Ed note – Yes , he was!)
So much of what he told me held true. Things like “It’s not a project until the money is in the bank”.
I also learned that cutting the price to get the business work is a BAD idea! The idea of working for cheap makes me cranky the whole time, and then there’s the slippery slope of the client expecting the same price again next time. Best avoided!.
(9) What next? Do you plan to do this the rest of your career (like I did?) Or is this a stepping stone to other things?
Dad always told me, “While lots of people would LOVE to do consulting, most just can’t generate the business”.
Now that our company is mature, and we don’t need to market as hard anymore, we’re set. Besides, no one would be willing to pay me what would be required to go back to working at an office with a boss.
Also attractive – I am now 50 – is knowing this is something I can dial down whenever I like. I don’t need to keep going full steam and then suddenly quit and it’s over. There’s a lot more choices. Dad pretty much epitomized this.
(10) Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to colleagues who might be thinking about consulting (or going out on their own?)
Look at what you are doing now, what you do well, and what you enjoy.
People sometimes call me an entrepreneur, but I disagree. When I think of entrepreneurs, I think of creating a totally new business (like making cookies).
We simply took something that we were doing well (while working for somebody else), tweaked it, and then sold those services to people with whom we have real, established business relationships. When done as a continuation of something you’re already successful at, the transition can be smooth indeed.
Susan Kimmel, PhD – Partner – in2ition
www.in2itioninc.com – 800.796.5162
Susan resides in the Twin Cities of Minnesota with her husband and two sons. She has a beautiful office in her home, which means that in addition to having no boss, she has no commute.
P.S. I disagree that she is not an entrepreneur. In my opinion, anyone who starts and runs a business qualifies. But like may consultants, she is a “lifestyle entrepreneur” – keeping her business small while carving out her own path – just like her Dad. Well done, Susan!
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Scored the hat-trick*… meeting THREE of my favorite bloggers/authors/philosophers all in one week. How great is that?
Like his earlier two books, this one focuses on figuring out your mission in life — and then doing something about it. He stresses the intersection of Joy-Money-Flow. Similar to my personal philosophy of Do Some Good – Have Some Fun – Make Some Money.
Chris also stresses the importance of quitting. Sometimes things just don’t work, and it is time to move on and try something else. Good advice, but counter to the conventional wisdom that “Winners Never Quit/Quitters Never Win” I agree with Chris — check this.
Along with his three books and other projects, Chris has visited every country in the world — a quest he completed by age 40. An interesting person, and worthy of reading his books and following his blog.
Pam Slim – Escape From Cubicle Nation & PamelaSlim.com – Pam was at the same book event to introduce Chris, a longtime friend. He claims her as his inspiration. I share the same sentiment, as Pam was an inspiration for JumpToConsulting.
Pam has two books under her belt, and has a third underway. Like Chris, she also focuses on careers and the world of work. As her first book name suggests, she is an entrepreneur and has helped many make their “escape” from soul sucking corporate jobs.
Her second book mellowed a bit, as she share insights about succeeding in the corporate world — at least if you are so inclined. After all, not everyone should be a solo entrepreneur. We still need big companies for big enterprises. I mean, would you fly on JumpToConsulting Airlines? I wouldn’t.
But the best part of seeing Pam again was simply getting a big hug from this very caring fellow Arizona blogger. Thanks, Pam.
Bob Lowry – Satisfying Retirement Journey – Mary and I had lunch today with another fellow Arizona blogger and his wife Betty. Bob was forced into an early retirement fifteen years ago, and started blogging about it at Satisfying Retirement Journey.
Like Chris and Pam, Bob has a book under his belt along with hundreds of advice-filled blog posts. It is one of the more popular retirement blogs, and for good reason.
In addition to blogging and writing, Bob and I share interests in ham radio and RVs. In fact, as we traded RV stories, by the end of lunch we were both ready to head out for some new RV adventures.
A common thread shared with all three — along with blogging — is that all three have been consultants in past lives.
- For Chris, it helped pay some bills starting out, but he soon moved on to group events like the World Domination Summit which now draws thousands every year to Portland, OR. Like training, he figured out how to leverage his unique talents.
- For Pam, it was a transition from corporate life to that of a solo entrepreneur. She used the consulting fees she earned to be her own venture capitalist. She loves to tell the story of being pregnant, puking in the gutter, and then getting on a plane to visit clients – multiple times. Talk about dedication to starting a business!
- For Bob, he ran a successful one-person consultancy for many years. He traveled all over the country as a radio advertising consultant. This was a natural for an ex-DJ and he had a great time. Joy-money-flow indeed. Then the market changed, and the business dried up. But he realized that he had enough stashed away, and that he no longer enjoyed getting on a plane every week anyway. So he switched gears, and started blogging, writing, and just enjoying life.
Three inspiring author/bloggers who have trod the consulting path, and who now share their advice and life experiences with their followers. It is a sincere pleasure to share all three with you!
*A natural hat trick occurs when a player scores three consecutive goals, uninterrupted by any other player scoring for either team. The NHL record for the fastest natural hat trick is 21 seconds, set by Bill Mosienko in 1952 for the Chicago Blackhawks. — Wikipedia
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
It was a year ago this month that my business partner passed away from cancer. To say the past year was stressful would be an understatement.
Bill and I were good friends and business partners for almost 40 years. I miss him every day.
But life goes on. The fog is lifting, and the paths ahead looks bright. The big question is “Which path to take?” After much soul searching, the new path becomes clearer each day.
When a colleague recently inquired about my future plans, I gave this answer:
After much consideration, I’m winding things down here. I’ll soon be 70, so I decided to kick back. Twenty years ago I’d be a bit more motivated.
Been referring consulting jobs to several younger guys which is working fine. Still doing training, which I really enjoy (and which pays well.)
However, I limit myself to no more than one class a month. In the old days it was not unusual for each of us be on the road 30-40 times a year with consulting and training projects. Lot’s of fun, but I don’t have the energy for that anymore.
Still tying up a few loose ends, but ready to move on. I’ve been doing the JumpToConsulting blog for about five years, and plan to ramp that up.
I’ll be doing a presentation “So You Want To Be A Consultant” at the IEEE EMC Symposium in Ottawa in July, which I may expand into an on-line class. There is a book in the wings too.
My overall goal is to slow down and enjoy life. Goof off more. Travel in the RV. Spend time playing with the dog and the grandkids.
Bill’s passing was a reminder that life is not infinite. We had a great time with our business, but as a recently retired consulting colleague said, “It’s time to forge a new path…” That idea appeals to me too.
So how about you? Is it time to forge a new path in your life?
My consulting business was only one of several paths I forged. And I am happy to share my experience here, in the hope that it may help others forge – or at least explore – their new path as a consultant.
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Just finished gathering my annual tax information, so taxes are on my mind. It gets shipped out tomorrow to my accountant, who (as a consultant) will do the financial magic.
Years ago my accountant advised me to keep good records and to keep them clean. One never knows when one might be audited. Sometimes it is purely random, and sometimes it is the result of an abnormal condition that flags your return. .
According to a recent news article, 1 % of IRS tax returns are audited. It is slightly higher for small businesses. It seems some business owners can’t resist the temptation to fudge the numbers, either through questionable deductions or hiding income.
My advice — do NOT do this! An audit can easily cost you thousands of dollars — fees, lost time, and lost revenues. And while you can deduct the legal/accounting expenses, you can’t deduct or recover lost revenues — they are gone forever.
Furthermore, once you fail an audit, expect to be audited again. I know one small business colleague who learned that lesson the hard way. His audits went on for several years.
More advice — use a CPA! Even if you can do the taxes yourself. Nothing like having a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) sign your tax return for credibility with the tax agencies. Or at least signal them that you have a professional tax advisor in your corner.
To keep the costs down, I keep my own books. Nothing fancy here — I used Quicken for years. Although a simple check register system, it can generate various reports. Such as the P&L (profit and loss) statement, which my CPA uses to prepare my taxes.
My CPA has helped in several other ways. Setting up a chart of accounts, sharing general business advice, filing other reports, and providing vetted referrals for insurance and financial management. It has been money well spent.
If you do get audited, don’t despair. I’ve been audited twice — once by the IRS, and once by the great state of Arizona.
The IRS audit was supposedly “random.”
The conversation went something like this:
Auditor – Which is better for you? To come into our office next Tuesday or next Wednesday?
Me — Neither. But can my CPA handle this? He prepared the return.
Auditor — Uh… yes… I guess that would work.
I suspect the audit was not random at all. But the issue got resolved, whatever it was.
End of audit.
The Arizona audit was supposedly due to high medical expenses one year.
The conversations went something like this:
Auditor – I need to verify all your medical expenses.
So I sent copies of all the bills.
Auditor – Now I need to verify all your insurance payments.
So I sent copies of all the payments.
Pretty sure the auditor thought I did not save these statements. I also included a list of expenses I had missed — a couple of drug charges, plus mileage for the various medical appointments.
I then asked if I should file an amended return to get money back.
End of audit.
Thanks to a CPA, clean books, and good records, I passed both times. And I didn’t lose any sleep over either one. In fact, it felt pretty good to put a stop to any fishing expeditions.
Keep your books clean too — it is just good business to do so!
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.