A Success Story – Susan Kimmel, Ph.D. – Medical Market Research
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!
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