Anecdotes & Musings

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Follow your passion… NOT…

Too many “entrepreneurial” bloggers suggest you simply “follow your passion.”

Unfortunately, that alone is not enough. You better be able to make money at it! Here are two stories that illustrate the point:

The Ice Cream Store…

At a professional meeting some years ago, one of my colleagues said to ask Dick about his ice cream store.

“Ice cream store?” I responded. “We’re a bunch of consulting engineers. What’s with the ice cream store?”

“Just ask,” he responded with a twinkle in his eye.

So I did. As engineers, we often like to twist our colleagues’ tails, and I was pretty sure that was what this was all about. But it turned out there were some valuable lessons in the story.

Dick told how his daughter had long wanted to have her own business. Being a good dad, he agreed to help her. With stars in her eyes, she decided to open an ice cream store. Not a franchise, but an independent store, that she could decorate and run how she saw fit.

How cool is that?

Unfortunately, this was her first business venture. No customer surveys, no location research, no marketing of any kind. Build it and they will come, right?

With some luck, the store was moderately successful. Enough so that soon a second ice cream store opened up down the street. Another would be entrepreneur with stars in her eyes also thought it was a cool idea, and jumped in.

The net result. Neither store now made enough to break even. Within a year both stores went bankrupt.

There are a couple of lessons here:

  • Make sure there is a want or need for your products or services.
  • Make sure there are some barriers to entry.
  • Make sure there are enough customers able and willing to pay.

Just because it looks cool, doesn’t mean it is a viable business!

Roto-Rooter isn’t particularly cool, nor was our consulting practice. Like Roto-Rooter, we fixed problems that others did not care to handle.

And while our consulting practice was not as cool as an ice cream store, we enjoyed it — and we made a darn good living at it.

The Country Doctor…

In an earlier post, I told of my great-uncle’s medical bag, and how a few simple tools coupled with the right knowledge and experience saved lives in the early 1900s. His medical practice spanned a half century. A successful professional consulting career.

His first passion, however, was music. As a young man, he dreamed of being a concert violinist. But he realized the odds of making a decent living playing the violin were not good.

So he made a career out of a second passion. Healing people through the practice of medicine. Music became an avocation, not a vocation.

He found great satisfaction in both. He was an accomplished physician, and also an accomplished musician. Thanks to his decision, he lived life well.

I heard this story years later from his wife, my great aunt, who was also his nurse. Since he passed away when I was young, I hardly knew him. But I always found his decision to be very wise. Find something you like to do, AND with which you can make a living.

You can always make a hobby of other passions.

So before you quit your job to follow your passion, make sure there is a need, there are barriers to entry, and there are clients willing/able to pay. Otherwise it is just a hobby.

Copyright © 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Are you an Ambivert?

Here is a reply I left on a LinkedIn discussion, titled “Are you an Ambivert?” The post was by Dr. Travis Bradberry, the co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0.

In his article, Dr. Bradberry challenges the conventional pigeon-holing of personalities as either introvert or extrovert. Rather, he points out that most of us are a combination of both traits. Furthermore, those traits may vary depending on the situation we are in.

He shares research showing those in the middle are often more successful, as they can better relate to both ends of the spectrum. He also points out that this flexibility can be learned through increased self-awareness.

My comments follow:

Great article! Please let me share a personal story,

Forty years ago I moved from engineering to sales. As most engineers are introverts, I was a bit concerned. After all, Dilbert is a documentary.

At a business workshop, we had to do short self-assessment. On a scale of 1-10, where 1 was an introvert 10 was an extrovert, I came in with a 4.

The instructor then asked for a show of hands for those ranking 8 or greater. His comment was, “Most of you are in sales, right?” I was crushed – thinking I was a round peg in a square hole.

Then he asked, “Any sales engineers here?” My hand went up alone.

He said, “You’re a 4, right?” I was amazed. Then he continued, with a grin, “You engineers just can’t get the needle above 5 no matter how hard you try.”

I stayed in sales engineering for about 10 years, and then started an engineering consulting practice which I ran for the next 30 years.

So thanks for finally pointing out I’m an ambivert. I always just assumed I was an engineering misfit :-) Who knew?

In my experience, most consultants (both management and technical) trend slightly toward introversion. After all, we’re thinkers and observers. So don’t let being an introvert stop you from making your JumpToConsulting.

Besides, if you are interested in consulting, you may well be an ambivert anyway!

Copyright © 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

What excited you at ten years old???

You’re intrigued by consulting, but you’re bored with your job. The idea of the same old grind has little appeal. So what else might you try?

Ask yourself, “What excited me at ten years old?

Many of you pursued a career that really didn’t interest you, but did it because it was the “right” thing to do. Maybe there was pressure to follow a parent’s footsteps, or maybe you were simply advised to “be sensible.”

If you are considering a JumpToConsulting, take a look at what once REALLY excited you. After all, if you are going to make the jump, it might as well be fun. Here are two stories:

A survey of engineers…

Many years ago, my late business partner mentioned how he was intrigued by a science fiction story about a machine that could think. He was ten years old. This eventually led to a career in Electrical Engineering. He also mused how disappointing it was to find out later that computers were really dumb. But he was still hooked on engineering.

My experience was similar. At nine years old, I build a crystal radio. Hearing the local radio station in the headphones was pure magic. Like my business partner, I was hooked. I later got into ham radio, and ended up as an Electrical Engineer.

Based on this observation, we started surveying our clients and students. When asked when our fellow engineers (both men and women) first became interested in things technical, it was often around ten years old. The answer was consistent hundreds of times.

A ham radio story…

In the mid-1990s, I had a client who was also a radio ham. Both of us had recently jumped back into the hobby, so whenever we met, we discussed our latest radio adventures.

One day I asked him, “Why is the appeal of this hobby, anyway? It is really kind of dumb. Why spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to talk to complete strangers, when you can do the same thing for free on the Internet?”

He thought for a minute, and then replied, “You know, when I sit down to the radio, it only takes five minutes and I’m ten years old again. It’s the magic.”

So what excited YOU at ten? Can you turn it into a business? Give this some thought if you are contemplating a JumpToConsulting, or any other career change.

P.S. Maybe you were lucky, like me, and discovered a passion early. Only later did I realize how many people did NOT follow a passion–often to their regret. But is never too late…

Copyright © 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Happy New Year 2016…

Welcome to a brand new year! Most years I am a bit sad to see the old year end, but this year I am happy to see 2015 out and excited to see 2016 in. The past year has been rough — but life goes on. Even in sad times, life is a grand adventure.

To put things in perspective, here is a list I received from my financial advisor (a fellow consultant.) Fun to read. It compares life in 1915 to life in 2015 — lot’s of changes in the past 100 years. I added a few of notes of my own.

In the Year 1915… (when my father was 3 years old…)

  • The average life expectancy for men was 47 years (now 76, and 81 for women.)
  • More than 95 percent of all births took place at home.
  • Only 6 per cent of Americans graduated from high school (now 81 per cent.)
  • Only 14 per cent of homes had a bathtub.
  • Only 8 per cent of the homes had a telephone.
  • The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower.
  • The American flag had 48 stars.
  • Fuel for cars was sold in drugstores.
  • The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
  • The average US wage was 22 cents per hour.
  • Sugar cost four cents a pound.
  • Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.
  • Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.
  • Canned beer had not been invented yet (Official “birthday” was 1935.)
  • The average US worker made between $200 and $400 per year.
  • An accountant could make $2000 per year. (Financial consultants did well.)
  • An engineer could make $5000 per year. (Technical consultants did even better – Thanks to Edison et al, engineers were giants in those days :-) )

Is this the year to hang out YOUR consulting shingle? If so, start NOW to make it a reality. Don’t wait 100 years. If you are already consulting, congratulations!

Either way, hang out here and I’ll share more ideas on how to start, build, and maintain your small consulting practice. Check on Mondays for the latest post. 

Happy New Year from Uncle Daryl!

Copyright © 2016, 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.

Copyright © 2016, 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!

Copyright © 2016, 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 :-)

Copyright © 2016, 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…

Copyright © 2016, 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!

Copyright © 2016, 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!

Copyright © 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

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