Anecdotes & Musings

A political rant and “thought experiment”…

‘Tis the political season, and all the mudslinging, lies, outrageous proposals. Not sure about you, but it makes me weary, and even a bit concerned. What really scares me is that so many blindly buy into all the political BS.

Maybe it is time to put this in perspective with a little rant. Allow me to share a thought experiment from an engineering consultation twenty seven years ago.

It was 1989, and I was doing an engineering class for the Kuwait National Petroleum Company. It was in between the Iran/Iraq war and the invasion of Kuwait. I worked with a great bunch of Kuwaiti engineers, and I hope they all survived.

Another US company was teaching a class at the same time at the same training center. Since we were housed together and shared many meals, I got to know my colleagues. As veteran travelers, they shared their insights and perspectives.

One of the trainers grew up in the Netherlands, and emigrated to the US as a child right after World War II. He told chilling stories of the Nazis rounding up Jews, not realizing at the time that he would never see his childhood friends again.

He had been a naturalized US citizen for many years, and one evening over dinner he posed this interesting thought experiment:

Suppose I take 100 unconditional US visas to any city in the world. I stand on a corner and offer them to anyone who is willing to return in an hour with only a suitcase and their family. In return for giving up their current citizenship, they will become US citizens.

How long will it take to get rid of those 100 visas?

Now, suppose I take 100 unconditional visas for any other country in the world. I stand on a corner of any city in the US, and make the same offer. Give up your US citizenship to become a citizen of another country.

How long will it take to get rid of those 100 visas?

This is not meant to wave the flag or brag on the US, as there are many other fine countries in the world, and many people change their citizenship.

But it does serve to put in perspective what we have here in the land of opportunity. I’ve known many immigrants who took advantage of those opportunities, with the US much better off as a result. Some are even consultants.

So maybe it is time to stop bitching, and start showing some gratitude. And maybe it is time to start acting like adults in the voting booth!

End of rant.

 

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

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.

© 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!

© 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…

© 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!

© 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.

© 2015, 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!

© 2015, 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 🙂

© 2015, 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…

© 2015, 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!

© 2015, 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!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

How much is enough?

How much IS enough? The question still haunts me…

Here are three stories. All three affected my thinking. Perhaps they will affect yours.

Story 1…

The question of enough was posed by a fellow consultant several  years ago. His wife had just been diagnosed with cancer, and we were talking after a professional society meeting. He was doing some serious introspection, and as a friend and colleague I lent an ear.

“How much is enough?” he mused. He had worked hard, was successful, and had enough in the bank. His immediate priority was enjoying whatever time his wife might have.

So he backed off on the business, and they went on some cruises. She responded well to treatment, and happily, she is fine today. But it did reset his priorities on what was enough.

Story 2…

My first encounter with enough goes back 45 years. My new boss hosted a Christmas party at his new house on a lake. It was a beautiful place in a beautiful setting. Being recently married, I thought how nice it might be to someday have similar digs.

Later, I thanked him for the party and complimented him on his new house. He smiled, and then offered some fatherly advice.

“Thank you,” he said. “It is nice. It makes my wife happy too. But there is a downside. We put all our money in the house, and as a result, we can’t do anything else.” He continued, “You are just starting out. Be careful about committing to a big fancy house.”

I decided that our modest house was enough. Each time we moved we stuck with enough. And today we have still have enough. 

Story 3…

My next encounter with enough came 12 years later. I was working for a successful entrepreneur, who net worth somewhere around $50 million.

An old German who had escaped Hitler, he came to America and worked as an engineer. Following a dream, he started a business in a garage. A combination of working hard and being in the right place at the right time with the right product led to phenomenal success.

But he was still  an old engineer at heart. One evening at a trade show, he hosted a bunch of us for dinner. After a few beers (after all, he was an old German), the subject of how much was enough came up.

He said, “You know, a couple of million is probably enough for most of us. How can you spend it all? After that, you are only keeping score.”

Sadly, he and his wife divorced on his way to his riches. Was it worth it? Not in my book.

Finally, how much is enough for you? Thanks to starting my own consulting practice combined with prudent living, today I can say I have enough.

© 2015 – 2017, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Join the CBM Club…

I was first introduced to the CBM Club in 2012. What a novel concept!

In August 2011, we bought a small motorhome from Born Free in Humboldt, IA.

At a rally in 2012, I met John Dodgen, the 85 years old founder of Born Free back in the 1960s. What a delightful man, with a continual twinkle in his eye. Over the years, John and his family built the company into a small but highly regarded RV manufacturer.

At one point, I had the chance to talk with John over hamburgers. Always curious about small businesses, I asked him how he got started.

He smiled, and told me his story that went something like this:

After my brothers and I returned to Iowa after World War II, we realized that we could not all share the family farm. Liking the area, I decided to start a small company to manufacturer farm machinery.

One of our most successful products was a special trailer for feeding livestock. A niche product, we we eventually saturated the market. Furthermore, we made them so durable they didn’t wear out.

So I went to my board. I told them I wanted to take the company in a new direction. After much deliberation, I wanted to join the CBM Club.

At this point, John waited for my puzzled response. OK, so what is the CBM Club???

Corn, Beans, and Miami. You see, I’d noticed many farmers buying our machinery grew corn and beans, and then they headed to Miami for the winter. I wanted to do that too.

So I suggested making an RV. A highly durable RV, using the knowledge and experience gained making farm machinery. The first model was a slide in on a pickup truck. It was pretty heavy, so we added a tag axle for support. That was unique to the industry.

Not long after, we added roll bars. This was based on hearing of a fatal RV accident. I directed my design team to figure out how to add this important safety feature.

A few years later, we started building motorhomes. We focused on small truck based units (Class C), and built them with very high quality. Including the roll bars – never been a fatal accident in a Born Free, of which I am proud.

So what lessons can we glean from this for consulting?
Pick a niche. Don’t try to be everything to everybody
Be flexible. Be ready to change direction, but try to leverage on past experience.
Deliver high quality. The market may be smaller, but your customers will love you.
Don’t compromise. On safety, ethics, or anything else. Your reputation is key.
Have fun. I will always treasure the story of the CBM Club.

John recently passed away, and will be missed by all — his family, his company, and his customers. What better legacy to leave behind. Our condolences – RIP John.

P.S. –Yes, we love our little Born Free “Built for Two!”  Heading back in it from Minnesota (where there are some grandkids) to Arizona (where this is no snow.)

Our version of the CBM Club –joined as a consultant.   

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Consulting lessons from Pope Francis…

Like many others, I was enchanted by the Pope’s recent visit.  And I even gleaned some consulting lessons. To wit:

(1) Be likeable — Pope Francis radiates likeability. Nobody wants to listen to a jerk.

As consultants, this means being genuinely interested in your clients. It means really liking them, and not being mean, snarky, or vindictive.

(2) Be approachable –-Pope Francis rode in simple vehicles, rather than fancy limos.

Remember the auto CEOs and their jets? Many are angered by power when it is abused.

As consultants, we must be careful not to intimidate or annoy. Early on, we realized that as older engineers we might intimidate younger engineers. So we made it a formal business policy to be approachable. It works.

(3) Be honest — Pope Francis spoke truth to power — to Congress — and to the United Nations. Some people didn’t like it, but he let the chips fall where they may.

As consultants, that is what we are paid to do. To speak the truth. To identify and fix problems, not to praise or to suck up.

(4) Be flexible — Pope Francis made changes, even in the face of resistance. He didn’t just talk about it – he did it.

Change is often hard – particularly cultural change. Lot’s of inertia, not to mention politics. Those who enjoy advantages (fair or otherwise) don’t want to give them up.

As consultants, we are often called to be the agents of change.

(5) Be forgiving —  As Pope Francis would tell you, nobody’s perfect. Those genuinely seeking forgiveness will be forever grateful.

As consultants, accept those imperfections (including your own), forgive, and move on. You will be a better person for it.

(6) Be humble — Probably the Pope’s the most important lesson. Stories are that he was not always so humble, but worked to learn humility. That speaks volumes about this man.

As consultants, keep your ego in check – you are not the center of the universe. I’ve seen too many cases where a felllow consultant’s ego killed the relationship.

No, I’m not Catholic, but I sincerely respect this man.  He is a breath of fresh air. I think he’d be one fine consultant. But maybe he already is!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Small town living – a path to financial independence?

Here is a reply I left recently at my favorite financial blog, Mr. Money Mustache.  Pete, a fellow engineer, spent the last several years challenging and cajoling people to become financially independent.

He “retired” at age 30, and now does what he wants with no financial worries. Lives a nice lifestyle in nice digs, too.

His formula is simple — cut consumption and increase savings. When your income from investments equals your expenses — viola — you are now financially independent. He did it in seven years, and you can too.

So what does this have to do with consulting? You don’t need to be fully financially independent to make your JumpToConsulting, but you DO need some reserves. Assume at least six months with no income.

So if you are overconsuming and living pay check to pay check. you can’t make a JumpToConsulting, or any other jump. You first need to cut your expenses and change your mindset and your lifestyle!

One way to do this is to move to a small town. That is what my older son (the inspiration for this blog) did this year. Here is his story:

Don’t overlook small towns – particularly those about 100-150 miles from a major city.

After living in the city, my older son recently moved to a small town in Minnesota – population 5000. About 100 miles from Minneapolis, it is beyond commuting distance so it is no longer a suburb. But it still close enough for city resources (hospitals etc.) or a big city “fix” if needed.

They bought a nice house for 1/2 the cost in the city. The grade school and a park are across the street, and the high school is a few blocks away. The kids love it – they can bike all over town with their new friends. His commute is under ten minutes of country driving. His wife works in the high school as a teacher’s aide, and loves it.

They were concerned about leaving the city, but have been pleasantly surprised. Small town festivals –wineries — microbreweries — parks with uncrowded campgrounds. It may be rural, but there is still plenty to do. And the big city is still only two hours away.

Looking for a job change, he stumbled – almost by accident – on an executive opportunity with a small medical manufacturer. The company was delighted to get someone with his talent and experience, and they pay him accordingly. The school was delighted to hire his wife too. Big city wages with small town cost of living — how great is that? Plus the quality of life.

These opportunities abound, but you must seek them out. So if you are not yet financially independent, consider this as one way to speed things up — and enjoy the journey immediately. My son admits he never dreamed they would live like this.

A few more details on my son. After taking a company through a complex acquisition, he no longer had a job. Small thanks for helping grow the firm by 10x in a couple of years as their financial guru.

So he took his MBA in finance, his experience, and his proceeds and hung out his shingle as a consultant. The early discussions with him were the catalyst for this blog.

Although he was building the business, it was going slower than hoped. When one of his clients make him an offer he couldn’t refuse as the VP of Finance for a start-up, he jumped at it. Besides, like his dad, he has a love of small business.

But after a couple of years, it became obvious the start-up was stalling. Furthermore, there was friction with the founder, who was unwilling or unable to make necessary changes. (Been there myself.) So rather than wait for the axe to fall, he started a job search.

One interesting opportunity was with a medical device manufacturer in a rural community. As both he and his wife grew up in the city, there was some reluctance to purse it. Still, the job sounded interesting, so they decided to go in a new direction. So far, so good.

I’m proud of my son for taking that chance, and for working hard, like a good consultant, to make a positive impact on the world.

I’m also proud of his brother. A financial attorney in a large Manhattan firm, he recently took a chance and initiated a special project on alternate currencies. As their “Bitcoin-guru”, he too is working very hard to make a positive impact on the world.

Well done, both of you!

P.S. Thanks to the Internet and Fed-X, one can easily consult from small towns. And depending on your niche, you may even find plenty of clients right in you own backyard. 

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

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.

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.

The sad ordeal is over…

Last Wednesday, my good friend and business partner of 40 years passed away from pancreatic cancer. The end came sooner than expected, but at least he is no longer suffering. I will miss him terribly … hell, I already do!

A future blog post will address partnerships. Most of the time I advise against them, as I have seen too many go sour. But when they work, they are absolutely wonderful.

Such was our partnership, and a major reason our consulting firm was so successful.   And so much fun!

Although many of you didn’t know him, here is the eulogy I plan to deliver at his funeral this week. I think it captures the essence of this gentle man.

William “Bill” Kimmel, PE
Kimmel Gerke Associates, Ltd.
Consulting Engineers
1940-2015

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Daryl Gerke, Bill’s friend and business partner for almost 40 years.

When Bill’s daughter asked me to say a few words, I told her it would be a privilege. But when she told me I only had about five minutes, I knew it would be a huge challenge.

You see, I could go on for hours with wonderful stories about Bill… and given the opportunity, probably would. Those of you who do know me know that’s true.

As an aside, Bill and I spent many pleasant hours telling, and then retelling stories… often to the chagrin of our wives. I will miss that.

So what can I say in just a few minutes? As I reflected on this, I was finally able to distill it down to three key points I’d like to share today.

(1) Bill was highly respected

The highest accolade an engineer can give to another engineer is to say, “So and so is a good engineer.” Sometimes for emphasis, one is called a “darn good engineer.” We engineers are such an emotional bunch.

As the emails and phone calls poured in after the news of Bill’s passing, those phrases were repeated many times. Often with examples of how Bill had jumped in to difficult situations… helped out… and even saved their bacon.

Past students lauded his abilities to take complex concepts and make them easy to understand.

Of course, I agree with those sentiments… Working together for 40 years, I know of no better practitioner of the engineering profession.

(2) Bill was extremely gracious

In a business where giant egos sometimes reign, Bill was modest to a fault. When I shared a comment with him several weeks ago that someone had called  him a “rock star”, he chuckled and replied, “Gee,  I just thought I was doing my job.” … Classic Bill.

Bill also willingly shared what he knew. Not only with clients, but with colleagues and even complete strangers.

An e-mail from a professor in the UK told how, in the middle of his battle with cancer, he took the time to discuss the impact of some new standards. It was much appreciated… He was literally known around the world.

A phone call from a vendor told how he took the time at a trade show last fall to talk with the woman’s son about a career in engineering, and how much it meant to both of them… She had only met Bill earlier that day.

(3) Bill was a friend to ALL

I’m biased, of course… What started out as a couple of young engineers collaborating on some moonlighting projects blossomed into a friendship that lasted almost 40 years… Personally, I can think of nobody else who would have been a better friend and a better business partner.

He also leaves behind a multitude of friends in our engineering community… The many emails and phone calls in the past week have constantly expressed this sentiment… About what a good friend he had been, and how much he will be missed.

In closing, I’d like to share one particularly eloquent e-mail I received from one of those friends just after Bill’s passing.

I’m not much of a reader, but one time my Rabbi lent me a book to read. It was by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, the author of “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People”. I never finished it, but I remember one passage:

As most clergy do, the Rabbi liked to learn about other faiths. He was at some kind of convention or conference, and he heard the Buddhists talking about how you shouldn’t get attached to anyone, because you would only lose them eventually…

Rabbi Kushner disagreed… He said that isn’t living… Rather, we should allow ourselves to love people even though it will be painful when we lose them… That is living.

So I’m doing a little living right now, over Bill.  (Thanks – Jeff Silberberg)

Right now, I think we are ALL doing a little living over Bill… REST IN PEACE, my friend!

Click here to see Bill’s on-line obituary.

P.S. Changes are coming, so check in from time to time. Initial plans are to ramp up JumpToConsulting, and to ramp down Kimmel Gerke Associates. And to spend more time just goofing off – grandkids, reading, writing, traveling, and playing with the dog.

The goal here – helping “newbies” become consultants, and helping “oldies” become better consultants. Like the underlying goal Bill and I always had with our consulting practice – helping engineers become even better engineers!

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

An update on the sad news…

In February I shared the sad news that Bill Kimmel, my business partner and good friend of almost 40 years, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That is the main reason the posts here have been few and far between. Here is an update.

It has been a rough few months. The chemo failed, but it did make him sick. As a result, he ended up in the hospital for a week with complications. This led to hospice care at home which was working  pretty well.

During that time I flew to MN for some visits. We tied up some loose business ends, reminisced, and even laughed a bit as we relived our past consulting adventures (and a few misadventures…)

We decided our business had accomplished the three objectives we had for any project — do some good, have some fun, make some money.

  • We’ve solved or prevented hundreds of EMI (electromagnetic interference) problems in a wide range of industries – computers, medical devices, defense (space craft to submarines), vehicles (planes, trains, automobiles – even fire trucks), industrial controls, facilities (including nuclear power plants & oil refineries), and more.
  • We’ve trained over 10,000 designers through our public and in-house classes – immensely satisfying in itself.
  • We had a great time visiting almost every state and several foreign countries – and we made many friends along the way.
  • We both ended up financially set for retirement – even though we’ve remained involved with our little consulting business.

The bottom line — no regrets. Looking back, it has been so much more interesting and satisfying than had we stayed with corporate careers.

While consulting is not for everyone, for us it has been simply great! It is also what keeps me going with the blog — the hope that others may be inspired to do the same.

Last week things took a turn for the worse. Having balance problems, Bill moved to a full care facility as his wife could no longer care for him at home. They had agreed on such a move ahead of time.

Nevertheless it has not been easy for anyone — Bill, his family, his friends, nor his business partner. But for now, he is hanging in there.

The response from our friends/clients/colleagues has been most gratifying. That is a good measure of business success – how much you and your work have been appreciated. I’m sincerely thankful to everyone who has expressed their kind thoughts to both of us.

In closing, my Dad had a sign in his workshop that said “Live, so that when you die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”  As a kid, I found it a little spooky, but at this point in my life and career I fully appreciate the sentiment.

And don’t wait to start living your dream. Later, you want to be able to look back and smile as we are now doing — and perhaps even laugh a bit! 

P.S. ATTN Friends/Clients/Colleagues Contact Bill at bkimmel@emiguru.com. Due to low energy, he may not reply, but rest assured he enjoys hearing from you. 

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

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