Monthly Archives: May 2017
Time for another success story. This one is about Ken Wyatt, who started his engineering consulting business upon early retirement, and who consults in the same area as me.
Do I consider him a competitor? No more so than a doctor considers another doctor a competitor. He is a friend and valued engineering colleague, and it is a pleasure to share his story here.
Upon retirement, he planned to do photography. But when that didn’t work, he went to Plan B – consulting. As an engineer, always good to have a Plan B.
Slowly the business grew. He wrote articles (a favorite method of mine) and tapped his professional network. One very effective method was starting a group on LinkedIn, which he discusses.
He now keeps a busy as he wants to be. His writing and visibility attracted a major technical magazine, which led to a technical editor assignment.
To put it bluntly, he is “doing good, having fun, and making money” in his retirement.
Here is Ken’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?
I’ve always been the entrepreneur type – even as long ago as high school. Televisions were transitioning from B&W to color and our neighbors were pitching their old sets.
Every week, I’d raid the local trash cans looking for electronics. I’d cut out the resistors and capacitors and sell them to the others in my electronics class.
Later, I’d buy surplus components by the pound from where I worked at Rockwell International (they had a wonderful employee store!) and take boxes of parts to the famous TRW Swap Meet in LA and sell them by the piece.
I’d spent the first 10 years of my career at various aerospace firms and finally ended up at Hewlett Packard in Colorado Springs. This was their oscilloscopes division, and in 1999, eventually spun off as Agilent Technologies.
I spent 21 years there, eventually qualifying for a partial retirement package. Once I’d decided to “Jump To Consulting”, I gave my manager two years notice and asked for and received permission to hire my own replacement.
After nearly a year of searching and evaluating recent college grads (another story), I finally found a suitable candidate (a PhD) at the University of Missouri – Rolla. I left Agilent January 2008 – just a few months ahead of a major economic crash (good timing, Ken!)
It took a couple years before companies started hiring me, but it’s been a hoot since then.
(2) How has it been going? You’ve been at it a while, so obviously you are established in your business.
Once the economy turned around, it’s been pretty steady business – an average of two clients per month and around a weeks work per month. This allowed my wife and I to do quite a bit of travel in between jobs.
Of course, I also invested a lot of the time marketing my services, writing articles and blogs, networking via LinkedIn and attending IEEE and other engineering events.
In December 2015, I accepted the position as senior technical editor for Interference Technology – an annual directory and design guide that started publication in 1971. I had subscribed to this in college in the mid-1970s, wrote for them through the years and it’s been a privilege to now serve as editor.
I work for them half time and spend the other half time consulting. Needless to say, I manage to stay pretty busy.
(3) What do you like MOST about consulting (your own business?)
I love helping companies overcome their EMC issues. Most of the product design issues are the same handful of problems; poor shielding or filtering, poor cable shield termination, and poor PC board layout.
I love the troubleshooting process and the challenge of finding the lowest-cost and most manufacturable solution.
I also enjoy teaching and developed a two-day seminar to help product designers learn EMC basics and avoid the obvious design issues.
(4) What do you like LEAST about consulting (your own business?)
All the book keeping and taxes. I contracted that out to my CPA and what a relief!
The cost is around $300 per quarter for the accounting and personal and business taxes run just under $1000, but to me, it’s not worth the time taken away from clients. Besides, it’s a very small part of my total income – basically in the “noise level”.
The accountant set up the chart of accounts and has access to my business account. They transfer all the transactions into QuickBooks and handle all the quarterly reporting and taxes. All I do is write a few checks each quarter.
(5) How do you get your clients? (BTW, the number one question I get asked when someone finds out I’m a consultant.) (Touch on LinkedIn as I know that has worked well for you.)
It can be a slow process. Marketing yourself through writing and networking is really important – especially these days of the internet.
I started writing for magazines while in college and it made a huge difference when the recruiters came. The same holds true any other time. Those who take the time to document what they know are head and shoulders ahead of those who don’t.
I’m also active on LinkedIn and send a personalized message to those who wish to connect. I also connect only with product designers, others in my field, and their managers. Head hunters, real estate agents, and other non-engineers need not apply.
This vetting keeps my connection list pertinent to what I have to offer. I also try to send out at least one message or link to an article per week in order to keep my connections on top of my latest activities. In turn, I keep track of what my connections are up to and respond with notes or “atta boys”.
A couple years ago, I decided to start my own group EMC Troubleshooters, with the idea of providing free assistance to those who needed pointing in the right general direction with some sticky problem.
The business I receive attributed to LinkedIn varies each year, but has ranged from 10 to 40% of my gross income.
Above all though, the quickest way I got started was to partner with a local test lab so they could refer their “tough compliance cases” to an expert. In turn, I’d refer the test lab to those clients who were looking. (Good idea – I did the same 30 years ago – Ed.)
The income from this partnership ranges from 30 to 40% of gross income.
(6) How do you set your fees? (Second question I get asked.)
I asked other top consultants what they were charging. I initially made sure the rate was sufficient to handle all the overhead costs associated with running an independent consultancy.
I also participate in the annual IEEE Consultant’s Survey. A couple years ago, I set my hourly rate at about 80% of the high end of that survey.
(7) How did you decide what to consult about (or focus on?) And why? (Third question I get asked.)
I really enjoy the challenge of EMC, so decided to stick to what I knew.
(8) Lessons learned since you started consulting?
Don’t be afraid to accept a job that may challenge your skills. That’s the best way to learn. However, “a man’s got’ta know his limitations” (Clint Eastwood), so occasionally I refer a client to someone I know is better versed in a particular subject or issue.
Also, some clients tend to delay their payments. I have a wonderful invoicing program that flags all late payments. Not quite half of my clients need me to send them a “friendly reminder” follow up invoice after the “NET 30” date..
It’s very important to keep “reminding” clients you’re out there and ready to help.
Writing articles and blogs helps. I also keep an eye out for other articles or technical papers that might help a client and forward them on to them.
(9) What next? Do you plan to do this the rest of your career? Or is this a stepping stone to other things?
Like I mentioned, I love this job. While it does keep me busy some times, its great to have the freedom to call my own shots. At this point I’ll die with my boots on.
(10) Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to our fellow engineers who might be thinking about consulting (or going out on their own?)
Not everyone will have the wherewithal to strike out on their own.
If you don’t already have them, you’ll need to develop skills in business, accounting (unless you wish to contract this out), networking, writing, marketing, and sales.
While in college, I worked as a salesman at Radio Shack. It was a fantastic opportunity to deal with people, learn sales skills, do the daily bookkeeping, and manage inventory.
Above all, you need to have a passion for helping people. Your enthusiasm will show!
Thanks, Ken. It has been great fun watching you start and grow your consulting practice. So glad you made your JumpToConsulting, and set such a good example for our engineering colleagues.
Here is Ken’s contact information. BTW, I’ve been sending work his way as I wind down my consulting practice. I know he will take good care of my clients, and he has.
Wyatt Technical Services LLC
56 Aspen Dr.
Woodland Park, CO 80863
I’m here to help you succeed! Feel free to call or email with any questions related to EMC or EMI troubleshooting – at no obligation. I’m always happy to help!
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