Anecdotes & Musings

Need a Job??? Create Your Own…

This is what 40 attendees of the recent “Start Your Business Workshop” in Chandler AZ are considering. As an aside, all 40 had recently lost their jobs. But rather than sulk or wait for the government to intervene, these 40 budding entrepreneurs were taking matters into their own hands. On a beautiful spring day in Arizona, no less. Bravo, I say!

The workshop was an extension of Laid Off Camp/Phoenix , a program staffed by volunteers intent on helping those who have recently lost their jobs. This special session focused not on getting another job, but on starting your OWN business. It was my privilege to discuss consulting as a small business possibility.

The group (attendees and speakers) ranged in age from the 20’s to 60’s. While I was probably oldest person in the room, my boomer colleagues were well represented. Unfortunately, the new boomer reality is often “Too old to hire — too young to retire.” 

Almost all of the speakers (like me) had been laid off at least once. In addition to offering “nuts and bolts” advice, we also shared our stories — the zigs and zags of starting and building our businesses. The talks were both practical and inspiring.

The session was kicked off by Arizona’s own Pam Slim (Escape From Cubicle Nation.) Her insights are priceless — over the years, she has helped hundreds launch/build successful small businesses of all types. I’ve sung her praises before, and gladly do so again.

The most inspiring talk of the day came from Randy Walters, the founder and owner of Pittsburgh Willy’s Gourmet Hotdogs. Laid off at 53 (boomers take note), Randy had an epiphany while watching a TV commercial. Rather than look for another job, he decided it was time to follow his dream — running a hot dog stand like his father had done in Pittsburgh in the 1930s.

So he plunged in and bought a hot dog cart — but then didn’t sell his first hot dog for six months. He described, with great humor, the Catch-22 bureaucracy along with the bad business advice he chose to ignore (gourmet hotdogs — never work — keep the menu simple–etc.) But Randy stuck with his dream, and five years later, he now has a full restaurant that is a “must visit” here in the Valley of the Sun.

Several people expressed interest in consulting. One was a former HR person, another was a retired teacher interested in tutoring, along with a fellow geek (engineer.) Of course, many of the speakers were consultants, and included a newly minted lawyer, a graphics artist, a former car salesman, a couple of web experts, and an accountant who also runs a women’s exercise studio. What an interesting bunch!

Here were some key points gleaned from the presentations. While several of us emphasized these, it was probably good to hear them repeated.

  • Marketing is key — No, the world won’t beat a path to your door. You’ve got to light the way. Remember, without customers you don’t have a business.
  • Follow your dream — Don’t compromise, and be true to yourself.  Don’t wake up at 60 wishing…
  • Don’t give up — As Pittsburgh Willy said several times, if one way is blocked, just hunt for another way to get there.
  • Don’t be afraid — Probably the most important. A little fear is perfectly normal, but don’t let it overwhelm you.  And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

So, if you are looking for a job, why not consider creating your own?  Many of us have already done so — consultants and others — and we’re having a ball.

P.S.Best wishes to all who attended — yes, you CAN do it!  And while happy to share my perspective, I’m sure I gained more than I gave. Special thanks to organizer Susan Baier (, who does this as a labor of love.

Now, off to Pittsburgh Willy’s for a hot dog…

© 2012 – 2015, All rights reserved.

Are Engineers Really In Demand?

Here is my reply to a recent IEEE article “Are Engineers Really in Demand?” The authors posed this question in response to a recent  Washington Post story that discussed unemployment among engineers. Being a geek myself,  I was intrigued.

What disturbed me, however, were the comments that followed.  Way too much griping about how the government, big business, or foreigners (H1B visas) were to blame. Whoa!  What happened to being responsible for your own career?

So here was my response:

Lot’s of complaining here. Let me offer an alternate (more positive) view.

After being laid off twice early in my career, I decided to hang out my shingle as a consulting engineer. After 30+ years (25 in full time practice,) I can say it has been great. The technical work is interesting, the pay is better, and the respect is even better yet. Not only that, as you get older, the perception is that your experience is even more valuable — rather refreshing.

The down side is that you no longer have the “security” of a company behind you. But as most of us know, that is a myth anyway. In fact, with consulting it is quite the opposite — no one client can put me out of business.

But you DO need to hustle for the business, something that frightens many engineers. I just look at getting new business as another technical challenge. After all, we’re supposed to be problem solvers, right?

Frankly, I wish more engineers would adopt the mindset of working for themselves, rather than depending on the corporate bean counters for sustenance. If doctors, lawyers, and accountants can be in practice for themselves, why not engineers?

Food for thought. Finally, if you are considering this, get your PE license. You’ll need it to open some doors. Then start hustling — you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. I’ve certainly enjoyed my way of practicing engineering. Good luck!

The results? A bit disappointing. One troll did respond with a rather bizarre comment “… You escape for now. The giant vampire squid of capital is seeking the small leaks next…”  Huh?  Missed the point, or really bitter I guess.

But I shall remain positive. If you are reading this, you are presumably not willing to depend on  “the man” to give you a job.  Creating your own can be a satisfying alternative — consulting or otherwise. You have my encouragement…

P.S. Will do a talk on consulting at the Start Your Own Business Workshop this Saturday in Chandler AZ. The workshop is sponsored by LaidOffCamp, a great program for those who have lost their jobs.

Who knows — maybe we’ll even help launch some new consultants!

© 2012 – 2013, All rights reserved.

It was not Obama’s fault that you failed…

Nor was it Bush’s, or Clinton’s, or anybody else’s. If your business failed, it was YOUR fault. But don’t sulk about it — figure out what you did wrong, fix it, and try again!

This rant was precipitated by a recent comment on a business blog. The author whined that his new venture failed because Obama had “tinkered with the health care system.” What a crock — I just wanted to reach out and slap some sense into him.

Time to grow up or shut up!

Just for the record, it took me two times to get the consulting business right, and four times to get the training part of the business right. And there have still been the occasional rocky times since then.

In 1987, on the first day in full time business (the second time around) for my consulting business, the stock market crashed. Scared of failing again? Yes, but this time we succeeded, and we now joke, “The first day in business was the worst day in business.”

Failures are merely learning experiences. Sure, they may hurt at the time, but if we let them, they almost always teach us something. Furthermore, I don’t trust anyone who “never failed.”  Either they are lying, or they are very good at placing the blame on others. (Had a boss like that once… one reason I went out on my own.)

Here is a quick story that has served me well over the years. It was my first engineering sales job, and my new boss sent me to a multi-week sales training class. One evening at a break, I asked an older (wiser) and very experienced salesman how he handled the inevitable setbacks and failures.

  • He smiled, and said, “Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and move on.”  He went on, “If you never fail, you’ll never learn, and you’ll never make progress. By the way,” he added, “I’ve been at this for over twenty years, and I still fail to make the sale more often than not.” His advice alone was worth the price of the class.

So if you are serious about running your own show (consulting or otherwise), expect failures along the way. Try to manage the risk and minimize the damage, but know that you WILL have failures. And when you do, LEARN from them.

But don’t blame Obama, or anyone else! Finally, remember the immortal words of Harry Truman, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” And I’d like to add, “If you can’t stand the failures, don’t start a business…”

P.S. Off to DesignCon 2012 in Santa Clara to present “Consulting for Geeks”. Watch my blog for follow-on webinars on consulting.

© 2012, All rights reserved.

We hire people to solve problems…

So said a favorite boss, many years BC (before consulting.) His advice that day has stuck with me over the years, and has served me well. I’ll elaborate shortly.

The catalyst for this was a recent post by Seth Godin (another bald guy fascinated by small business.) He talks about solving problems, rather than just identifying them. He also advises that you “go find the help your organization needs to solve them.”

Thank you, Seth. That sounds like a solid endorsement for consultants.

Back to my old boss. It was almost thirty years ago, and I had been hired as a Field Sales Engineer. I’d only been there two weeks when told I needed to submit a monthly status report. The format was one page, with three problems and three successes.

Not sure what to do, I approached my boss. “What’s this all about?” I muttered. “I haven’t even been here a month. No successes to report. Furthermore, admitting problems at the last place I worked was like giving somebody a knife to stick in your back.”

  • John smiled, and then said, “Let me share my business philosophy. Businesses have problems. We hire people to work on those problems. If you’re not working on solving those problems, then what are you doing here?”

I quickly replied, “John, I think I’m really going to like working here!” What a refreshing approach. Sure was an improvement over the last place.

  • He went on, “The only way you’ll ever get into trouble with me is if you sit on a problem too long. If you need help, just ask. By the way, I hired you because I sensed you like to take the ball and run with it — please do so now.”

I worked for John several years, and enjoyed it immensely.

I’ve shared this story many times with clients in trouble. This can be particularly helpful when someone feels they are to blame. Problems in business? Don’t be upset or embarrassed – problems are perfectly normal.

My attitude — now that you’ve brought me in as your consultant, let’s work together to solve those problems. Like puzzles, the problems often turn out to be interesting, and a great chance for everyone to learn and grow.

Hope you enjoyed this bit of advice. So what problems are you working on?

© 2012, All rights reserved.

On Moving to Arizona…

In 1996, I mentioned to a client that I was toying with a move to Arizona.

He commented, “My Dad always wanted to do that. Every year he and Mom would go to Arizona, and look for just the right place to eventually retire.”

Excited, I asked, “Wow!  Did he finally do it?”

My client sadly replied, “No, he died before he got the chance.”

With that “encouragement,” I decided to make my move a few months later!

— Off to an IEEE  (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) symposium in Los Angeles, where I’ll do a talk titled “So You Want To Be A Consultant.” It turns out more and more engineers are thinking about consulting. Bravo, my fellow geeks!

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Geezer Alert… Age Can Be Your Friend

Like it or not, age often matters in marketing a consulting practice. Age also matters in customer perceptions, as evidenced by the following examples.

Real Life Story # 1 – Floyd, a fellow engineer, was going to law school at night.  At the time, he was in his mid 40s, and I was in my late 20s. As he approached his graduation, I asked if he planned to hang out his lawyer’s shingle. His reply surprised me, but also set me thinking about my future.

“No,” he replied, “not unless I have to. I really enjoy what I do here, but law school is my insurance policy.”  I should add that Floyd had been in a car accident many years earlier that had left him partially paralyzed.

“Look at me,”  he said. “I’m over 40 and a cripple.  Who would hire me if I lost my job?”  I started to mumble an apology, but he continued. “No, don’t be embarrassed by your question — it was a good one. But even if I had no handicap, finding another engineering job would still be a problem because of my age.”

He then added, “The irony is that, as an older attorney, age is an asset, not the liability it can be in corporate world. Everyone will just assume I have many years of experience. Like fine wine, my value will increase — not decrease — with age.”

Wow! That set me thinking about my life after 40. Within two years, I hung out my shingle as a part time consultant.

Real Life Story # 2 – A dozen years later, now a full-time consultant over 40 myself, I was called in to help a small company with a serious design problem.  I was also now completely bald and starting to show some gray in the beard.  Oh, the ravages of time…

After solving the problem, I was wrapping things up with the equally bald VP of Engineering.  He thanked me, and then added with a twinkle in his eye, “You don’t know how happy I was to see a bald guy walking in here.  I knew I needed some old rooster that had been around the barn a few times… ”

That’s when I realized Floyd was right — as a consultant, age can be your friend!

Real Life Story #3 – For those of you who are younger, you may want to consider this approach. A consulting colleague has sported old fashioned  “mutton chop” sideburns from a young age.  As he explained, when he started out he looked even younger than he was, and it was hindering his ability to be taken seriously.

Incidentally, it worked (although like many of us, he no longer needs to add years…)

The bottom line — while age should not matter, perception does.  And in the mind of the customer, that perception is their reality.

PS – Don’t miss the “Special Welcome for Geezers”

© 2011 – 2012, All rights reserved.

Are you a quitter, or a starter?

When I left my last corporate job at Intel (the day the market crashed in 1987), I stopped by the division General Manager’s office to say goodbye.  The GM, known as “Rocky”,  was a good guy with a sometimes wicked sense of humor. We chatted a bit, and he wished me well in the new consulting venture.

As I headed out the door,  though, Rocky threw in a barb.  “Quitter”, he muttered.  Without thinking, I spun around and quickly replied, “I’m not a quitter — I’m a starter…”

As I recall, he smiled, and said “Good answer.”

So how about you?  Are you a quitter, or a starter?  The reason I started this blog was to help those who wanted to start consulting … not necessarily those who just wanted to quit something else.

Please make sure you are considering consulting – or any other business venture –  for the right reasons.

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Barriers to Entry…

Learned this lesson the hard way, at a cost of several thousand dollars. You’re getting it here for free.

This story goes back to 1981 and my early days as a part-time consultant. IBM had just introduced the PC. Our major client, a vocational school, asked for an evening class that focused on how to use PCs in small business.

Their original request was for a multi-week series, but realizing how valuable time is to a small business, my business partner and I suggested a single four hour evening session instead. They agreed.

So, off we went. We developed the class, and the school advertised it in their next bulletin. We knew we had a winner when over 80 people showed up for the first class. We repeated it several times, got good reviews, and the attendance continued to be strong.

Recognizing an opportunity and with the school’s permission, we decided to expand the class to a full day and offer it ourselves. This meant placing expensive newspaper ads (no Internet in those days) and renting a hotel meeting room.

Figuring the class was a certain success, we plunked down several thousand dollars and went for the gold. We didn’t bother with a pre-registration, but opted for walk-ins. After all, “Build it, and they will come, right?

But when the big day arrived, only three people showed up — and they were all from the same small company!

Well, the show must go on. There we were with three students, a room that could seat 40, and plenty of (expensive) refreshments. Over lunch we explained we didn’t know what had happened. After all, the previous sessions had been so successful.

“What did we do wrong?“, we asked. One of them replied, “Nothing. The class is good, but we are here only because we missed the FREE class last week.”

“FREE!!! What free class?” we responded. Well, it turns out that a new computer store had just opened, and to bring in business, they decided to offer a FREE seminar. Now how do you compete with FREE?

So that was the end of that adventure. It also quickly killed the classes at the school. But as we were licking our wounds, I ranted, “We are engineers. Never again will I go into a business where some kid from a computer store can eat my lunch. I now fully understand barriers to entry!

Not long after that, we decided to focus our efforts on Electromagnetic Interference, an area in which we both had extensive experience. It usually takes a degree in Electrical Engineering plus several years of direct  experience to become proficient. Furthermore, most engineers would rather not deal with these problems in the first place — another good reason to pursue this niche.  Thirty years later, those barriers are still there.

What are YOUR barriers to entry?

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Independence Day Musings…

Since I selected an Independence Day motif for my blog, it is only appropriate to offer some Independence Day musings. As stated elsewhere, freedom was a major motivator in my JumpToConsulting. But I didn’t realize it right away. Rather, that epiphany came a few months later.

Driving back from a client and listening to the radio, the commentator was discussing small business. He then quoted a survey that showed that the majority of small businesses were started for freedom — not, as many assume, for money or even power.

I about drove off the road. Yes, I suddenly realized! That was the main motivator for me too. The first few years were lean — made a little less money and worked many more hours. But it was all worth it for the freedom to do my own thing, to make my own decisions, and even to clean up my own messes.

But freedom is not for everyone, and that is OK too. Some people prefer the security of a steady paycheck, or the camaraderie of the water cooler. Other have family responsibilities that preclude taking financial risks. And many are very content with things as they are in the world.

Over the years, I’ve run into several examples of the above. After brief discussions, I’ve even discouraged some of them from making the JumpToConsulting. After all, not everyone is meant to be an entrepreneur. But if you want to change the world and the itch is there, it is hard to fight it (see previous post.)

I suspect our nation’s Founding Fathers felt the same itch. After all, many  were already independent businessmen — Ben Franklin, Paul Revere, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and more.  Some were even  traditional “consultants” — John Adams (lawyer) among others.

All valued their freedom, and were willing to work, fight, and even die for it. As Ben Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence “We must hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Said in humor, it reflected the seriousness of the situation.

Fortunately, none of us face being hanged for making a JumpToConsulting, or any other jump.  Their success gave us the freedom to pursue our independence today.

So thanks Ben, Paul, Tom, George, John, and all the rest!

Happy Independence Day, and remember, “UNCLE DARYL wants YOU.. to find your FREEDOM too!”

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Three Criteria for Project Success…

Have some fun… do some good… make some money. The perfect consulting project meets all three criteria. Two out of three is still often OK, and on occasion, I’ve even stooped to one out of  three. But these are three criteria by which I judge potential consulting projects.

Have some fun… For me, this is probably the most important. Life is simply too short to spend time doing things you do not (or no longer) enjoy. This comes from someone who daily wonders, “Where did the time go, anyway???”  Or, as Bob Parsons of GoDaddy says (Rule 16), “We’re here for good time — not for a long time.”  (Note – My older son was the GoDaddy controller in the beginning, working with Bob on a daily basis – now that was fun.)

Having fun means different things to different people. For some, it is learning something new.  For others, it is creating something, or perhaps solving a complex problem. Or it may just be the simple satisfaction of doing your best.

Having fun also means liking the people you work with with. You don’t need to put up with clients that are overly abrasive.  Unlike a full time job, as a consultant you can actually “fire” an obnoxious client. I’ve done that a couple of times in the past 30 years.

Do some good… This is closely related to the first criteria. In fact, doing good can provide immense satisfaction, and can still be the basis for a successful consulting practice. Best of all, you don’t need to do your good for free (unless you want to.)

A good example of this is Lynn, the retired nutritionist mentioned in an earlier post. Lynn originally volunteered her valuable skills to a local Native American community in the Phoenix area.  Her sole goal was to do some good.

After several months, she was asked is she could help other communities throughout the state.  Only this time, she would be paid. Unknown to her, a grant had been secured to support her efforts. She said yes, and truly had some fun, did some good, and made some money. And she  nicely augmented her retirements savings, too.

Make some money… Although third on the list, this is the ultimate goal of any business. Even non-profits need money to fund their efforts and pay their expenses. Nothing wrong with not making money, but if you do that all the time, you probably have a hobby — not a business. Even the IRS looks at it this way.

Not every project needs to make money right away. For example, you may be testing a concept or idea, and find that you lost money on the initial try. If that happens, don’t despair — take the lessons learned and try again. After all, you paid for the lessons.

However, you eventually want to make money on your consulting projects. Don’t just focus alone on having fun and doing good. Without profits, you don’t get to stay in the game. See the advice from my friend Marv.

Finally, if you end up making a lot of money and still want to change the world, you can always give it away. Look at  Bill Gates — his foundation has done a lot of good, and I can’t help thinking he has had a lot of fun along the way.

Although you’re not Bill Gates, you can still have some fun, do some good, and make some money with your business.  Comments?

© 2011 – 2017, All rights reserved.

Don’t wake up at 60 wishing…

Adding a new category to this blog — Encouragement. The original intent of this blog was to provide “nuts and bolts” information for those considering making the JumpToConsulting. You know — if you just knew how to do it (or how others had done it), the rest would be a piece of cake.

But recently it hit me that fear and uncertainty were even bigger issues. Not that I’ve never been afraid, but I don’t recall being paralyzed by fear either. Particularly in business situations — after all, as Bob Parsons (founder and CEO of GoDaddy) says in his Rule #4 , “…if it doesn’t work, they can’t eat you…”

The epiphany occurred at a recent one day workshop by Alan Weiss, the Million Dollar Consultant (TM.) It was part of his Friday Wrap (TM) program, which I enjoy as a thought provoking weekly tonic on the consulting business. When he brought up the importance of self-esteem, however, the floodgates opened.

I sat there amazed as several very successful and intelligent attendees confided their irrational fears. Some were concerned about achieving success (Can I do it?), and some were concerned about handling success (Do I really deserve it?) One even confessed fears about losing it (What if I can’t repeat it?)

Thus, the new category — Encouragement. No, this won’t be rah-rah stuff, but I’ll occasionally share some ideas, along with some helpful references.

To kick this off, here is a reply to a recent posting by Chris Gullibeau at the Art of Non Conformity (a favorite blog of mine.)

Chris tells of Rachel, his young seat mate on a recent international flight. She was very successful, but quite discontented with her job. The problem —  it was a “good job” and thus hard to leave. If nothing else, what would people think? After all, she had spent years to get two financial degrees, and was now jetting around the world for her employer. She was a “success,” but clearly unhappy.

Judging by the numerous replies, many others felt the same. So, to offer some encouragement, I submitted the following:

  • It seems like only yesterday I pondered these questions. One guiding principle for me – “I didn’t want to wake up at 60 and regret not even trying…”
  • So I made changes. Scary at times, but most worked out fine.
  • At age 30, left a comfortable job as an engineer to try sales. Scary at first, but had fun. Made some new friends. Learned a lot.
  • At age 34, left to join a startup. Fun a first, less fun later, lost money. (Even got fired one day.) Learned a lot.
  • At age 36, started a consulting firm. Failed. Crawled back into a corporate job. Learned a lot.
  • At age 38, went back into field sales. Great fun, made good money, made more friends. Learned a lot.
  • At age 41, started consulting company again. Market crashed the first day in business. Succeeded anyway. Been a blast. Made more friends. Learned a lot.
  • Age 64, still consulting. No regrets. Financially secure. Also raised two sons, married 43 years. Still learning, still having fun. But where has the time gone?
  • Big lesson to share Life is way too short to waste doing something you no longer enjoy! Don’t wake up at 60 wishing…

In short, I did it, and you can too. No horn tooting here — just offering some encouragement.

So let me know if you found this helpful. And remember what Franklin Roosevelt said the day after Pearl Harbor — “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” True in 1941, and still true today.

© 2011 – 2013, All rights reserved.

Everything you touch turns to gold…

Looks can be deceiving…

My business partner and I were cruising the show floor at a professional symposium, when one of the younger members of our technical community stopped us and asked, “How do you guys do it, anyway? Everything you touch turns to gold…”

We both looked at each other, and grinned.  I said, “Do you want to tell him, or should I?”  And then we both proceeded to explain that, in fact, many things we had tried over the years had NOT worked.

Or as I summed it up, “You’ve never seen all the dead bodies. We killed them quick, and then buried them. Occasionally we were able to nurse one back to life…”

Here are three examples, and the lessons learned:

  • Although we have a successful training business as part of our consulting practice, it took us several times to get it right. And even then, we’ve had to readjust.
  • Lesson learned — if you thinks the idea has merit, change it as needed.
  • After five years in business, just when we thought we had it all figured out, our primary market tanked and the business stopped — dead cold.  It was panic time, but then we diversified into several other markets.
  • Lesson learned — don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
  • In the late 1990s, we joined the frenzy with an on-line web portal. We had visions of big advertising bucks that never materialized.  It also was a huge time and money suck. We finally sold it to a magazine where it fit much better than with a consulting practice.
  • Lesson learned — Some businesses just don’t belong together.

With over thirty years of working together, we’ve had a few other misadventures, too. No, not  everything we have tried has succeeded — that is the nature of  business.

As the old Kenny Rogers song goes, You got to know when to hold them, and know when to fold them… ”

But even with the disasters, consulting game is still great fun!

© 2011 – 2016, All rights reserved.

Two cures… success or death!

This happened soon after I went off on my own. Cruising along at 30,000 feet on my way to consulting job, I was catching up on my reading.

In addition to technical materials, I’ve always tried balance my reading with business materials. Even though I’m an engineer, I’m also a business person. You know, profit & loss, sales & marketing, and all that stuff.

The business article I was reading was about the itch that drives entrepreneurs to start and run small businesses. And then the big quote hit me, as the author bluntly stated, “There are only two known cures for entrepreneur’s itch — success, or death.” It seems that once you catch the bug, you can’t get rid of it.

In a way, I felt relieved. After all, my venture into my own business hadn’t killed me. But I could really appreciate the drive that keeps one going. I had tried once before and failed, but regrouped, and this time it looked successful. Later on, it took my business partner and me four iterations to get the training side of our business right.

So be warned — once smitten, there is no cure. The itch will succumb only to success — or death.

Wishing you success, and a long and happy life!

© 2011 – 2015, All rights reserved.

Why building a business is like building a house…

My parents built and remodeled several houses. Not to make money, but to build a better life. And, I suspect, because they thoroughly enjoyed doing it. When one  project was done, it was usually time to start another.

Often, my brother and I were pressed into involuntary servitude. We pounded nails. We poured concrete. We tore down a barn. We  put on a roof. We learned how to plumb and wire and plaster. And much more.

Looking back, I now realize what great lessons we learned at a tender age. You see, my brother and I now each have our own small business. THANKS, Mom and Dad!

Thirty+ years ago, my business partner and I started building a consulting firm. We were a couple of young engineers with a dream of going off on our own. Incidentally, my business partner’s father was a carpenter. Hmmm…

It was nine years from the start until the day we “moved in” and became full time consultants. We could have done it in less, but we took our time. We plotted and planned, we marketed and built a customer base, and we stashed away as much money as we could. We pounded a lot of nails.

When “moving day” finally arrived (October 1987), the stock market crashed. That was almost  like having a fire. But we survived, and the business did not burn down. Better yet, we now had our own place to do business — in our own way, too.

Building a business is a lot like building a house. You start with a vision. You draw up some plans. You gather materials. Then the real work begins — you dig the hole, lay the foundation, frame the walls, and much more.

It all takes time. Eventually you get there, but not overnight. There are days when all you do is pound nails or cut wood. But you persist. After the walls go up, you add the roof, and finally the doors and windows. You finish the outside, and seal the place up.

Even then, you are still not ready to move in. Now you have all the inside to do — insulation, wiring, plumbing, painting, trim, and more. You wonder, will it ever end? Is all this effort really worth it?

By the way, this is where many fledgling business owners quit.  Frustrated. Out of energy and/or out of money. Sadly, they walk away with the house only partly built.

But hang in there — you are just about there. With a final bit of persistence, “moving day” finally arrives. And then you wake up one morning, and realize that you really ARE there. You have customers and cash flow. Congratulations — you’ve built a business!

A closing comment. I’m once again building a new place with this blog. A little retirement cabin, perhaps. A place where I can sit on the porch, sip lemonade, and share the lessons I’ve learned. I hope you find them useful.

In the meantime, as long as you’re here — can you hand me that hammer?

© 2011, All rights reserved.

Words count… and have consequences…

OK, I promised an occasional rant — here is my first…

Less that a week ago, and less than 100 miles away in Tucson, AZ, a crazed gunman tried to assassinate a US Congresswoman. He failed, but he did kill six other innocent bystanders, including a beautiful nine year old girl. (As a grandpa, I can hardly even bear to think about the this.)

When asked, Pima county Sheriff Clarence Dupnik (a well respected lawman) offered his professional opinion that the political rhetoric and vitriol from certain radio and television commentators may have been a contributor. Not as fact, but as opinion. He bluntly stated as only a gruff old sheriff can, “Yes… words count, and they have consequences.”

Sheriff Dupnik behaved as any good consultant should. Rather than sugar coat things, he called it like he saw it. As a professional in law enforcement for over 50 years, his opinion certainly has credence.

As a professional engineering consultant, I sometimes must offer an unfavorable opinion. I often joke that I must tell a client “Your baby is ugly.” I also joke that when doing so, one must be careful in how you phrase things. After all, words count.

The reaction to those criticized was not unexpected. Rather than accept or address the criticism, they immediately lashed out and attacked the sheriff — but not the problem.

Argumentum ad hominem, if I remember my freshman philosophy class — attack the man. (Yes, some engineers take philosophy classes.) It is one of the oldest of debate fallacies, yet favored by the most manipulative — and believed by the most gullible.

A word of warning. Expect the same when you offer an unpopular opinion. Those under fire will criticize you, your family, your upbringing, and more. You are seen as attacking their ego, and perhaps even their livelihood. Like cornered rats, they may well fight back.

But like Sheriff Dupnik, be polite and stand your ground. As a professional, your opinion counts for much more than those of the self-serving. And remember, “Words count… and they have consequences.

My sincere condolences to the bereaved – Daryl – Mesa, AZ

© 2011, All rights reserved.

My Grandfather’s Legacy

Food for thought…

In the middle of the depression, my grandfather started a new new career — selling hybrid seed corn out in Nebraska.

As a farmer himself, he was excited about this new technology. Still, he was literally asking his fellow farmers to “bet the farm.” Even though he was now a salesman, he was honest and persistent. Those who followed him and bought his product (and his ideas) became successful. Some even thanked him.

Thirty years later (and after my grandfather was gone), I met one of those old farmers. Upon learning I was Omar’s grandson, he slowly extended his hand, and simply said, “You grandfather was a very good man.”

We can only hope someone will say that about us to our grandchildren.

What will be your legacy?

© 2011, All rights reserved.

You can’t go broke making a profit…

Here is my first anecdote. These are little gems that I’ve picked up over the years, along with musings and other random thoughts. I’ll be sprinkling these in the blog on an occasional basis. I hope you enjoy them.

I first met Marv (his real name) when I was with a small company trying to break into the personal computer business. Marv had developed a very successful real estate firm, and was looking into using computers to further develop his business. Since this was around 1980, Marv was way ahead of his time.

We collaborated on a project to automate “farming”, a method used by many successful real estate agents to develop local markets. (By the way, the same techniques can be used by consultants to develop their own markets. We’ll talk about this in a future post. )

Marv was specifically interested in direct mail — using word processing combined with data base management. It didn’t need to be elaborate, as his experience has shown that a “farm” of even several hundred prospects was often enough to assure an agent’s success.

Marv also graciously shared a lot of good advice with me — both on business and on life. One of his sayings that really stuck with me was, “Remember, as long as you are making a profit, you can never go broke.” So simple, yet so profound. Thanks, Marv.

Happy New Year, and All the Best in 2011!

© 2010, All rights reserved.

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