General Consulting

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Sales Step #3 – Diagnose and Prescribe…

Now that you have qualified the prospective client, you are ready to provide a preliminary diagnosis and prescription.

The goal is not to actually solve the problem, but to create the desire to have you help. You want to reinforce your credibility, while suggesting a course of action.

Here are three theoretical examples:

  • A doctor might say, “Based on your symptoms, I suspect XXXX. The next step would be a CAT scan, perhaps followed by surgery. I’ve done this surgery many times before with good success. But we’ll make a final decision after the CAT scan. Would you like me to schedule the CAT scan? “
  • A lawyer might say, “Based on our brief discussion, it sounds like you have a case. The next step would be an in-depth meeting in the office. I’ve handled these cases many times before. But we’ll make a final decision after the meeting. Would you like to set up a meeting? “
  • As a consulting engineer, I often said, “Based on our discussion, I suspect a problem with XXXX. We can handle this several ways. The best would an on-site review. I’ve done this many times for others. Based on the review, we will either solve the problem, or provide a course of action.”

Note than all three examples, you have not actually solved the problem In fact, at this stage that might not be possible anyway. But you have moved the sales process forward.

Here are three steps:

Reinforce credibility“Based on XXXX, I suspect YYYY” shows you have listend to the client. Later, “I’ve done this many times before” reinforces that you are capable and have experience in dealing with the problem at hand.

Course of action“The next step…” shows you have a recommended solution, pending further action by the client. It also leaves you wiggle room if you need to change your preliminary diagnosis at a later time. This may well happen when you dig into the problem.

Trial close –Would you like to proceed?” If the client says yes, then move forward. If no, you need to ask why not? Perhaps questions remain that need to be answered. Perhaps the client is just shopping. Perhaps there is a schedule or budget concern. Ask why.

But don’t be manipulative! This is where traditional sales training says you must “overcome objections.” I disagree. Selling professional services is about helping, not manipulating.

What if the problem is very simple — something you can handle easily over the phone? Should you give away free advice, or should you hold back to sell your advice?

In those cases, our policy was to make those simple suggestions – at no charge. (Take two aspirin, but call back if the pain persists…) If the simple solutions worked, it created tremendous good will, and virtually guaranteed future calls as well as references. We looked at those cases as cheap and very effective marketing.

Others may disagree. An alternative would be to bill a nominal amount for your time, or set up a set fee for quick questions. Me – I always wanted to be approachable, and didn’t have the guts to charge thousands of dollars for very simple advice.

One final example of giving away free advice. Several months ago a call came in for some in-house training (which I still do.)

No hassles – they just wanted to know when I could come to their facility, and how much would it cost so they could issue a purchase order. What an easy sale!

Upon arriving, my client told how my late business partner had given free advice several years ago. When the advice worked, Bill would not accept payment for his few minutes of time (our standard policy.)

So when the client wanted a training program, he called nobody else, and he told me how much he appreciated our business practices. You can’t buy advertising or references like that!

Next up – Step #4 – Asking for the order. We’ll discuss the mechanics of quotations and proposals, and how to keep them simple and effective.

P.S. When selling professional services, think like a doctor, not like a used car salesman. Diagnose, prescribe, and never manipulate!

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Sales Step # 2 – Qualification…

There are two simple goals in this sales step:

  • Can YOU help?
  • Can THEY buy?

It is just as important to disqualify as it is to qualify. Your time is valuable, and you don’t want to waste it chasing low probability leads.

We already touched briefly on the first goal in Sales Step #1.

Now you need to dig a bit deeper. At this point, you are not trying to solve the problem, but rather to make a quick assessment.

As already mentioned, don’t be afraid to turn business away. If it out of your area of expertise, it may be better to refer to someone else.

On the other hand, don’t be afraid to stretch yourself.  You can back fill with books, colleagues, or an on-line search. This is also how you grow your experience bank account.

So ask more questions. You want to probe deeper.

Here are some typical questions/answers from my own engineering consulting business:

  • What is the problem? (Equipment malfunctions.)
  • How does it manifest itself? (System resets or hangs up.)
  • Any idea why it happens? (Not sure, but we suspect a power glitch.)
  • How often does it occur? (About once a month)
  • How bad is it? (The power supply once caught fire. Ouch!)
  • How much is it costing you? ($10,000 every time it fails. Double Ouch!)
  • Anything else? (Yes, a major customer is pissed. Triple ouch!)

Assuming you can help, you now know the situation is critical, and the problem is expensive. Since it is intermittent, it may not be super urgent, and it may also be a challenge to isolate.

If you are a business consultant, your questions will be different, but you still want to determine if you can help your client, how much it “hurts”, and how urgent things are.

Now that you have qualified YOURSELF, you are ready to qualify the CLIENT.

Are they willing and able to buy your services?

So probe some more. Here are three client qualifying questions I use:

— Schedule? When do you want to proceed? (Can you come yesterday? If you get this answer, close the deal!)

— Budget? Offer a budgetary estimate. The client is usually dying to know anyway. Don’t ask “How much do you have to spend?” as is sounds manipulative.

In situations like this, I usually quote 4-5 days of time, with the stipulation that the budget will not be exceeded, and that if the problem is still not resoled, we’ll mutually decide on the next step. The latter is like exploratory surgery — we may not know how bad things are (or are not) until we dig deeper.

Give a single number (a not-to-exceed, like $10K..) Don’t be vague or quote a range — the client will assume the lower number.  And never ask for an open checkbook.

— Quote? Offer a quotation. We’ll discuss quotations in more detail later. But at this point in the process, you want to know how serious the client is about fixing the problem.

If they say yes, proceed with the sales process. But don’t quote yet — rather gather more information. The quote should be a summary of what you both agree needs to be done.

If they are reluctant, ask why. But don’t be pushy, and don’t waste a lot of time trying to “overcome objections.” It is OK, however, to ask why several times. Doing so often uncovers the real reason for reluctance.

Offer to follow up if they need to “discuss with the boss.” While some “sales experts” suggest you should only talk with the final buyers, the boss often delegates the initial search to a subordinate. (Very common in the technical world.)

So be polite — while this person may not be able to approve, they can often disapprove. Also, this may be the person with whom you will work.

Assuming you have not disqualified yourself or your client, you are now ready to move on to Sales Step #3 – Diagnose & Prescribe.

P.S. Don’t fret if you disqualify. As a professional, your time is valuable and there is never enough of it. You need to focus on the opportunities with the best chances of sales success.

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Sales Step # 1 – Establish Rapport…

Time to revisit Uncle Daryl’s “Seven Steps of Selling” and to expand upon them.

Yes, I know — you want to be a consultant — a revered oracle — not a peddler. Sharing all your wisdom, and being paid handsomely for it.

All you need to do is hang out your shingle, right?

Wrong, of course. You need customers. Paying customers. And enough paying customers to pay the bills. Because consulting is a BUSINESS, and business means SELLING.

As a wise mentor once said, “If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business…”

So first you market. You create the necessary visibility and credibility for your services in the market place. You strategize. You define your markets. You generate leads. (Check here for twenty ideas on leads.) But you are still not selling.

Sooner or later you will need to actually TALK to a prospective client. That is when the sales process begins! And often the fear — usually the fear of the unknown.

But selling is simply a process you can learn. Like riding a bike, or playing the piano. Don’t expect to be an immediate expert, but with practice you can hold your own. And you will get better with time — I promise.

It all begins with establishing rapport. Here are some thoughts:

  • Relax, and smile. Even if you are on the phone. It will calm you.
  • Ask about their problem. Think like a doctor when he/she says, “What brings you in today?”
  • Listen carefully, and ask for more details. “Can you fill me in? How does the problem manifest itself? How long has this been going on? What else is going on?”
  • After you have enough preliminary details, simply say “That sounds like something we might help with.”

Assuming, of course, you CAN help. If not, you may want to refer the person to someone else. Don’t worry – they will appreciate you candor and will likely call you again based on the trust you just created.

Before proceeding further, ask how they heard about you. That give you some insight into the trust level.

If a referral, the trust level is already high. Ditto an article or talk. If simply a web search, additional reassurance may be needed.

Such as, “We’ve solve similar problems for others.” But don’t share specific client details, lest you raise concerns about protecting their confidentiality.

Next, ask if they have worked with a consultant before. This gives you some insight into their experience with consultants. If YES, simply proceed. If NO, more reassurance may be needed.

In either case, potential clients often have two fears:

  • Can you help them? Done right, you have already initially reassured them.
  • Can you work together? This is why a pleasant demeanor is so important. As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Note that Step #1 takes but a few minutes. The focus is on asking questions.

This is NOT time to go into a sales pitch, or to talk about how smart and capable you are. Rather, it is all about the client. Think like a doctor, not a used car salesman.

At this point, you are ready for Sales Step #2 – Qualifying. This is where you dig deeper, to see if you truly can help, and to see if they can buy your services. To be covered in a subsequent post.

P.S. Like many of you, I once feared selling.  But after I jumped in (first as a Sales Engineer, and later as a consultant) I came to enjoy the process.

The best part is that as a consultant, you are usually talking to friendly colleagues in the first place – and helping them solve their problems and/or improve their lives.

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

How big is the GIG economy???

Bigger than you think. According to a recent study by McKinsey & Company, between 20-30% of the working population in the US and Europe are free lancers (doing gigs.)

That translates to over 160 million people. Not too shabby, I’d say.

Rather than wade through the 148 page study, check out this latest post at Consultants Mind, a favorite blog of mine on consulting.

Although aimed at management consultants in both large and small firms, I find this blog well written and useful for solo-professionals too (including us technical consultants.)

To distill the data even more, here are some key points from the blog post:

  • Most consultants CHOOSE to work independently. More than 70% surveyed do so because the want to — not because they have too. This group is happier too — no great surprise.
  • One in six traditional workers say they would like to go independent. But many don’t because they lack the ideas, ambition, or grit. (If you have the ambition and grit, stick around and I’ll help you with ideas…)
  • Digital platforms enable freelance work. Thanks to the Internet and computers, it is easier than ever today to start and run a consulting business — from anywhere in the world. But you do need to develop your on-line presence to make this work.
  • This is NOT new. According to the author, 100 years ago 45% of the population was self-employed. As small farmers in rural Nebraska, all my grandparents and great-grandparents fell into that category. Furthermore, the author predicts the percentages will rise again in the next century.

The author was pretty critical of the original McKinsey report, saying the 148 page report was about 100 pages too long. He’s right – brevity is always better.

So save yourself some time and hop over here for more details.

Finally, the author challenges “retirees, students, and caregivers” to jump back into the economy – even if partially. If consulting is YOUR gig, follow me at JumpToConsulting and I’ll share my ideas on how to make your jump.

Consulting is a great life for those who choose it. I’m glad I chose it almost 40 years ago!

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Don’t cut your fees… cut the scope…

Sooner or later you will be asked to cut your fees. The reason may be legitimate (budget constraints) or your client may just be testing you (particularly if you are new.)

Either way, do NOT cut your fees. Rather, cut the scope…

  • If the budget is truly limited, this may salvage the project and allow you to still help your client, albeit in a more limited fashion.
  • If you are being tested, it sends a message that there is no “fat” in your proposal. This testing tactic is quite common with purchasing agents, who are tasked to get the “best deal” for their employer.

Don’t fret about doing this, and NEVER buy the business. Your time is better spent finding a client who is willing and happy to pay for your services.

This is the voice of experience speaking. Prior to consulting, I was a sales engineer for ten years. On two occasions I spent considerable time to round up “demo” equipment at substantial discounts for some “needy” customers.

Both turned out to be very poor customers, demanding extra support and hand holding while grousing all the time. Not a good deal.

As a result, this lesson was learned prior to starting my consulting firm. Good clients appreciate your value, and are willing to pay for it. If they don’t, move on.

Another example. I once put together a proposal for an overseas training project, which involved several extra tasks. Upon submission, the purchasing agent asked for a reduction, so I asked for a target price. Based on that, I revised the proposal – no small task in itself.

The purchasing agent’s response was, “We like the new price but we still want everything in the original proposal.” My response was to withdraw the proposal. I no longer felt comfortable working with the client.

I found out later that the engineering manager who initiated the project was unhappy — but not with me. Apparently this purchasing agent had done this to other consultants. While I didn’t like losing the business, at that point I felt justified in my action.

The best part was some good business came in, which I would have passed up had I gone with the bad business. Karma anyone?

Finally, the late Howard Shenson advised setting your fee at the minimum amount you would accept. That way there is no fat, and if you lose the business, you don’t end up second guessing yourself. Good advice – I’ve followed it for years!  

P.S. Now back in Arizona, and hope to be posting again on a regular schedule. It was the “Lost Summer” with my sister-in-law. Alzheimer’s is a cruel disease.

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Writing magazine articles… an interview with the Blue Penguin…

Recently did a half hour interview on writing magazine articles, on of my favorite (and successful) marketing methods. The interviewer was Michael Katz, the founder/owner of Blue Penguin Development, a one man firm that teaches solo professionals how to better market their practices.

Earlier this year, Michael formed the Blue Penguin Content Club. For $9.95/month, you get two 30 minute group calls each month — a weekly 48 second marketing tip — membership in a private Facebook group — and access to all the past recordings. Given Michael’s expertise and experience, this is one a heck of a deal.

Michael graciously allowed me to include the LINK to the interview HERE. So grab your favorite beverage, sit back, and enjoy Micheal and me discussing the ins and outs of getting your own magazine articles published. (30 minutes.)

Finally, if you enjoyed this, sign up for the Content Club – you won’t regret it. Full disclosure–no remuneration for me, and no penguins were harmed making this recording.

PS –  Michael has a free newsletter that I have been reading for years, along with numerous short courses and more.

PPS – Listen to the interview here.

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Visit me with the Blue Penguin…

As the “featured guest” of the Blue Penguin next Tuesday (August 23, 2016). I’ll be sharing insights on writing articles to build your credibility/visibility as a consultant. Join the Blue Penguin Content Club, and you can catch the session too.  Click here.

Way back in 2013 I wrote about the Blue Penguin and the Likeable Expert Gazette. In 2000, Michael Katz launched Blue Penguin Development, a one man firm that teaches professional service providers how to position themselves as “likeable experts.” Much of his emphasis is on newsletters (a favorite technique of mine) and social media.

More recently, Michael formed the Blue Penguin Content Club. For $9.95/month, you get two 30 minute group calls each month, a weekly 48 second marketing tip, membership in a private Facebook group, and access to all the past recordings.

Trust me — this is a great deal! And Michael is funny (and bald, which always sets well with me.) If you don’t want to invest $9.95/month, you can still get Michaels’ free newsletter.  As his newsletter name suggests, he is simply a likeable guy (and an expert in what he does.)

Hope to see some of you next week. Well, I can’t “see” you, but you know what I mean 🙂

P.S. Been a little slow on the posts here. It’s the dog days of summer. We’ll pick up the pace again in the fall.

P.P.S. Had 31 attend the consulting session at the IEEE EMC conference in Ottawa. Several were already consulting, and several more were on the verge of making their own JumpToConsulting. Way to go, my fellow geeks!

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Presentation – So You Want To Be A Consultant?

If you are attending the IEEE International Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) in Ottawa next week, you are invited to join me for this live presentation on Friday morning.

My talk is part of a career workshop (EMC Consultant’s Toolkit) where four of us share advice on consulting with our engineering colleagues.

Mine is the last talk, so I’ll be bringing up the rear. We will conclude with a Q&A session.

Here are some details:

  • What – So You Want To Be A Consultant? (EMC Consultant’s Toolkit session)
  • When – Friday, July 29, 2016 – 8:30 AM – Noon
  • Where – Room 215

Consulting opportunities abound in this esoteric area of electrical engineering.

  • New problems continue to emerge, driven by advances in the state of the art.
  • Old timers like me are retiring (or sadly, worse.)
  • Many companies prefer consultants, not wanting to maintain a full time EMC engineer on staff.
  • The result? A “perfect storm” for those with the right experience who want to make their own JumpToConsulting.

Please join us if you are at the show. Our goal is to help new consultants (or those considering consulting) in the field of EMC.

This is an excellent opportunity to learn from some of those most experienced in EMC!

P.S. Can’t join us? Then read my recent article by the same title in InCompliance magazine.  Or watch JumpToConsulting, as I plan to make this presentation available on line in the future.

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Just Published – So You Want To Be A Consultant?

The industry magazine “InCompliance” just published my article “So You Want To Be A Consultant’?

The article addresses the four key questions I’m often asked about consulting:

  • How Do You Get Clients?
  • How Do You Decide What To Charge?
  • How Do You Decide What To Consult About?
  • How Do I Get Started?

The article coincides with a presentation (same title) later this month at the IEEE International Symposium on Electromagnetic Compatibility in Ottawa, Canada.

My secret goal at the symposium is to instill confidence and inspire any engineering colleagues considering their own JumpToConsulting. My consulting journey for the past forty years has been a blast!

But this secret goal extends to all of my readers. So if you are itching to set yourself free, or even just curious, check out the article. I hope you enjoy it!

Best Wishes, and a belated Happy Independence Day,

Uncle Daryl

P.S. Been busy here, so the posts have slowed – as they often do during the summer. But I still have plenty of ideas to share, so please stick around. 

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

From the mailbag – Do I need client insurance?

This question arrived today from a friend and engineering consulting colleague.  Once in a while a company will request a “General Liability” insurance certificate.

Hi Daryl,

I’ve run into this requirement (client insurance) a handful of times. Most companies don’t ask for it, but some are asking to be named on my insurance policy. Do you know the reason why they might want that?

Here is my response. The beautiful irony is that just today my “General Liability” insurance was cancelled, after 20 years with no claims, and zero probability of a future claim.

As far as I know, there is no good reason (but I’m not an attorney.)  Rather, it is the result of good lobbying by the insurance industry.

We ran into that a few times. The request was usually for “General Liability”, not “Professional Liability.” The former covers things like driving you car into their lobby. The latter covers “errors and omissions.”

If you have a GL policy, ask for a certificate naming the client. It’s just a piece of paper, and should cost nothing.

Do you really need a GL policy?  I don’t think so. We went without a policy for many years.

But after fighting it a few times and to save time, Bill and I caved in and got a GL policy — about $1000/year for both of us. Upon our attorney’s advice, we never carried PL, since EMC has such a low risk.

If we had been doing product safety, we would have carried PL too.

The IEEE has both, but when I last checked, they would not sell the GL alone. We got our policy through a broker.

When Bill passed away, they reduced the premium to $500, so I renewed it. A total waste of money in my opinion, but still easier than fighting about it. Haven’t had a request for several years now.

As a coincidence, just today I got a certified letter canceling my General Liability insurance.

Seems some underwriter visited my web site, and panicked when they saw “medical devices, vehicular electronics, military systems, industrial controls, etc.” Even though the web site clearly states I no longer consult, but only do training.

My guess is some bureaucrat with no common sense did this. Probably their chance to make a “big decision.” But a stupid decision, as it was easy money for them.

As an side, my older son started with Hartford (the carrier) right out of college. He left in less than a year. Like his dad, he has a low tolerance for petty bureaucrats.

My plan is to forget the insurance. If somebody insists on it, my response will be to either waive the requirement of find somebody else.

Before getting insurance, I did that several times with success. I found that engineering VPs/directors/managers can and will override purchasing if they really want you, and need to do so.

And if they don’t want you, do you really want to do business with them?

Don’t want you to think I’m a jerk about these things. As a rule, I go out of my to be polite and professional.

But at the same time, I don’t let petty bureaucrats intimidate me. Neither should you.

As always, check with your attorney and/or accountant.  We carried General Liability insurance for many years, simply because it was easier to do so than argue about it.

But other than saving time, it was a waste of money. We never lost any business when we did not have it.

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

My retirement status… and what it means…

So is Uncle Daryl retired, semi-retired,  or what? Yea, I’ve been confused too, but I finally figured it out.

I’m retired three weeks out of every four.

One of the beauties of running your own consulting firm is no mandatory retirement date. And when you do retire, you don’t need to come to a complete halt.

You can taper off, pick and choose the stuff you still like to do, and hand the rest off to colleagues. But you can still be engaged with interesting work.

This is exactly what I’ve done. For the last several years, I pulled back from consulting (aka fire-fighting) but remained involved with training and publishing.

That worked well until my business partner passed away last year. He enjoyed the panic situations — in fact, his idea of a good time was when the call came in at 9 AM and he was on a plane at 4 PM. Me? Not so much.

So when Bill passed, I was left wondering what to do.

The solution was to set up a stable of vetted consultants, and then pass the leads along.

To keep it simple, no money changes hands. The goals are simply to help our clients, and to help our younger colleagues (and a few not so young) with their businesses. So far it has worked well.

At the same time, I remain active with training – which I consider “group consulting.” With only one engineer now in the firm, the training load went up. But to keep my sanity (and to keep my wife happy) I limit classes to not more than one per month.

So far that has worked well too. April was the first month in a long time with no class, and I’m almost fully booked through 2016.

How long will this continue? I don’t know, but I’m flexible.

I’ve always enjoyed training. There is nothing quite like seeing the “light go on” a student’s eyes. Even Warren Buffet agrees — when asked how he would like to be remembered, he answered, “As a teacher.” Plus training allows one to set a schedule well in advance – no panic calls at 9 AM.

What about the three weeks per month of retirement? Pretty busy there.

  • I’m still winding down Kimmel Gerke Associates, the consulting firm. A new web site now archives much of our IP – articles, newsletters, books, and more. Much is free.
  • The JumpToConsulting project remains a high priority. I’ve got some ideas that I’m about to roll out, so if you are interested in consulting,  please stick around.
  • The rest of the time I plan to spend goofing off — playing with the grandkids, the dog, and traveling in the RV with my bride of almost 50 years.

Retired three weeks – working one week – it works for me. The consulting life is great!

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Afraid of selling? Don’t be…

This post was inspired by “Fear and Loathing in Sales” at Trusted Advisor. The author addresses the irrational fear that professionals often have about selling.

I once shared that fear. But realizing that if I wanted to be in business for myself, I needed to overcome that fear – or at least get some experience. So I sought out -and landed – a job as a sales engineer (Tektronix.) And did it again later for another company (Intel.)

What a pleasant surprise. I quickly realized that technical sales was different – in spite of some canned sales training programs to which I was subjected. I discovered it was not about manipulation, bur rather about helping the customer or client.

I found it to be fun –another set of engineering problems to solve. Not unlike consulting. 

It was really about having pleasant conversations with technical colleagues — about what they were doing, and how my company might help them. Sure, I had to deal with contracts and purchasing agents, but by the time they got involved, the buying decisions had been made. They were there to handle the business/legal details.

As a professional, you are like a doctor, not a car salesman. You are there to diagnose and prescribe, not to wheel and deal. You are there to help.

If you are still unsure and want to build your confidence, consider spending a year (or more) in sales as I did. No, you don’t need to be an extrovert. Many of the best sales engineers I’ve known were quiet introverts who were genuinely interested in their customers and their problems (and/or aspirations.) Just like good consultants.

But there is a process, which I first outlined in the Seven Steps of Selling. I’ll soon expand on each of those steps in a short series on selling consulting services.

Finally, don’t fear the selling process — embrace it. It is the essence of professional consulting. And remember FDR’s advice, “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself.”

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Opportunities Abound When Ecosystems Collapse…

This post was inspired by a 2011 post by Pam Slim (Avatars, Ecosystems, and Watering Holes), where she discusses creating you own healthy business ecosystem.

But what happens when an ecosystem collapses? Most people panic, but a few recognize the opportunities — often excellent for starting a consulting practice.

Scientists tell us every major extinction event was followed by an explosion of new life. A prime example is the asteroid that destroyed the dinosaurs, which gave rise to the mammals and ultimately the naked apes known as homo sapiens.

When an ecosystem collapses, the balance of nature is upset. Those at the top of the food chain (the huge dinosaurs) are displaced, and new opportunities explode (for the tiny mammals.) But eventually a new equilibrium is reached, and evolution resumes its slow grind.

So it is with business. Sudden changes give rise to new opportunities, at least to those willing to pursue them. The inertia of the dinosaurs often prevents them from doing the same. In fact, the dinosaurs usually fight the changes and thus miss the opportunities.

A minor engineering ecosystem collapse helped launch our consulting firm.

  • Thanks to the personal computer explosion, by the early 1980s electronic interference problems to radios and televisions were increasing exponentially.
  • As a result, the Federal Communication Commission issued new regulations.
  • But there were few engineers that understood the problems, and how to fix them.
  • Most of those engineers were well entrenched in the defense industry, and not interested in tackling commercial electronics.
  • Thus, the engineering ecosystem for addressing these problems collapsed.

Recognizing the opportunity, we jumped in with both feet. But the economy was teetering too, and the first day in business the stock market crashed (October 1987.) A double whammy. But thanks to multiple opportunities with very limited competition, we did very well.

A second collapse occurred in the mid-1990s. Driven by the same interference problems, the European Union passed strict laws on interference on a wide range of electronic devices. If you could not demonstrate compliance, you could not export to the EU.

  • Once again, many big players (the dinosaurs) missed the changes (the asteroid.)
  • Once again, the engineering ecosystem suffered a minor collapse.
  • Once again, the little guys (the tiny mammals) like us did very well.

This is when we launched our training business, which took off like a rocket. This time, people were hungry for both help and knowledge. We often joked that while the consulting paid the bills, the training funded the retirement.

Would we have the same quick success today? Probably not, unless the ecosystem again collapsed. The growth would be much slower under today’s more stable conditions.

So, don’t fear the changes. Rather, seek them out. Remember, when the ecosystem collapsed, the mammals proliferated and the dinosaurs died out.

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Avoid Tax Audits… Keep Your Books Clean…

Just finished gathering my annual tax information, so taxes are on my mind. It gets shipped out tomorrow to my accountant, who (as a consultant) will do the financial magic.

Years ago my accountant advised me to keep good records and to keep them clean. One never knows when one might be audited. Sometimes it is purely random, and sometimes it is the result of an abnormal condition that flags your return. .

According to a recent news article, 1 % of IRS tax returns are audited. It is slightly higher for small businesses. It seems some business owners can’t resist the temptation to fudge the numbers, either through questionable deductions or hiding income.

My advice — do NOT do this! An audit can easily cost you thousands of dollars — fees, lost time, and lost revenues. And while you can deduct the legal/accounting expenses, you can’t deduct or recover lost revenues — they are gone forever.

Furthermore, once you fail an audit, expect to be audited again. I know one small business colleague who learned that lesson the hard way. His audits went on for several years.

More advice — use a CPA! Even if you can do the taxes yourself. Nothing like having a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) sign your tax return for credibility with the tax agencies. Or at least signal them that you have a professional tax advisor in your corner.

To keep the costs down, I keep my own books. Nothing fancy here — I used Quicken for years. Although a simple check register system, it can generate various reports. Such as the P&L (profit and loss) statement, which my CPA uses to prepare my taxes.

My CPA has helped in several other ways. Setting up a chart of accounts, sharing general business advice, filing other reports, and providing vetted referrals for insurance and financial management. It has been money well spent.

If you do get audited, don’t despair. I’ve been audited twice — once by the IRS, and once by the great state of Arizona.

The IRS audit was supposedly “random.”

The conversation went something like this:

Auditor – Which is better for you? To come into our office next Tuesday or next Wednesday?

Me — Neither. But can my CPA handle this? He prepared the return.

Auditor — Uh… yes… I guess that would work.

I suspect the audit was not random at all. But the issue got resolved, whatever it was.

End of audit.

The Arizona audit was supposedly due to high medical expenses one year.

The conversations went something like this:

Auditor – I need to verify all your medical expenses.

So I sent copies of all the bills.

Auditor – Now I need to verify all your insurance payments.

So I sent copies of all the payments.

Pretty sure the auditor thought I did not save these statements. I also included a list of expenses I had missed — a couple of drug charges, plus mileage for the various medical appointments.

I then asked if I should file an amended return to get money back.

End of audit.

Thanks to a CPA, clean books, and good records, I passed both times. And I didn’t lose any sleep over either one. In fact, it felt pretty good to put a stop to any fishing expeditions.

Keep your books clean too — it is just good business to do so!

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Do you sell like an engineer???

This post is for my fellow geeks. It was inspired by a recent post at LinkedIn Pulse titled “Do You Buy Like an Engineer? Probably Not.”

The author points out that many A/E/C (architectural/engineering/construction) firms stumble in their sales efforts when they assume their clients think just like them.

If the client is another engineer, that may be true. But if not (such as a government entity or even general management), there can be a serious misfire.

She points out that engineers are different. We engineers know that – see this post. 🙂 But she also points out that one must adjust the sales message to the client.

Here is my comment:

Very good article, and excellent comments. As a consulting engineer (30+ years) and former sales engineer (10 years), I agree.

But the reverse is true. If you are selling to engineers, you better give them details. If you try to “fluff and bluff” they will eat you alive.

As a young engineer preparing a capital equipment request, I was advised to limit the digits to two for managers ($20K, not $19,767.55.)

The joke was their brains could not handle larger numbers. But I quickly learned managers had a broader view. Both views are often needed.

So I use different approaches for engineers and managers in my business dealings. Your point is well taken – one must adjust the sales message to the audience. Don’t talk French to a German.

Thanks for sharing your insights!

Selling consulting services is all about communications. It is NOT about manipulation, like “overcoming objections” — how I hate that term!

Rather, it is having conversations about client problems and/or aspirations, and helping craft appropriate solutions. Like being a doctor or architect — not just another peddler.

But you must speak the client’s language. That was the author’s original point.

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Some comments on travel expenses…

Had a recent inquiry on how I handle travel expenses. Here are my policies:

  • Travel expenses are billed at cost – no markup. Some consultants mark up the travel, but I feel this is cheesy.
  • Air fare purchased is normally refundable/changeable. Saves problems if the schedule changes.
  • Out of town travel time is billed at one day anywhere in the continental US. Keeps it simple. Overseas travel time is negotiated, usually two or three days.
  • Local travel time is billed portal-to-portal for less than a full day. Four hour minimum. No extra travel charge for a full eight hour day.
  • I make my own travel arrangements. If the client does, they are subject to my approval.
  • A $2500 advance is required prior to any travel. Lost money once on a bankruptcy – won’t happen again.

These details are included in my “Terms and Conditions” – a  single page of boiler plate attached to quotations. Here is the verbiage:

Expenses – All expenses will be billed at actual cost, with no markup. These expenses include all travel costs, test lab and subcontractor fees, and other expenses incurred for the client.

State or local withholding taxes, if applicable, will be treated as an expense and added directly to the invoice.

Travel – Travel time is charged at our regular rates, as follows:

-Local – No travel charge for full day consultations. For less than a full day, time will be billed portal-to-portal.

-Out of town (Air Travel) – One full day labor is added to consultation fee for travel within the contiguous 48 states.

-Outside Contiguous United States – To be determined.

-We normally make our own travel arrangements, but if made by client, they are subject to approval. Overseas travel is “business” class.

Hope this helps.

© 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.

How we sold 130,000 books in one day…

For many years, this was a “trade secret,” but now the story can be told.

Simple — we gave them away — for FREE  — as a supplement to a leading engineering magazine. And did it ever pay off!

The original plan was a twelve part series in Engineering Design News (EDN) in 1994. The editor would not run it until we had six articles ready to go. Fair enough. So I wrote one article a month – after all, we still had an active engineering consulting practice to run.

Upon submitting the first six articles, the editor suggested bundling them all together as a book supplement to the magazine. At first, I balked. The initial strategy was a year long exposure (one article a month). Drip marketing…

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. So I agreed, and even offered to help procure advertisers. EDN jumped at that offer — we were in a niche market, and we knew the key advertisers.

We contacted those we thought would be most interested, and ever so gently twisted their arms. Those who did sign up later thanked us. Original copies still sit on bookshelves.

The supplement immediately went into reprints. In 2001, EDN asked us to update the material, and then they did subsequent reprints. I added two chapters and updated the a time-sensitive chapter on regulations. The rest stayed pretty much the same.

In 2005, EDN decided not to continue with the reprints. So they returned the copyright, and we then offered printed books for sale on our website and for handouts in our classes.

Several thousand copies later, we added a PDF version for download. Although not free, both versions continue to be popular.

When the original book hit, the phone rang off the hook. Overnight, it propelled us from a small local consulting firm to one of national prominence in our field.

The book ruffled a few feathers – a few complained it was not technical enough. But I was not writing for the academics or experts. Rather, I was writing for the design engineer who had just encountered his or her first electromagnetic interference problem — and a likely candidate for our services.

Overall, our first book* was a great (if somewhat accidental) success. We were paid a nominal amount for writing it, but not nearly enough to pay for the time. In retrospect – I would have done it for free, given the exposure it gave us and the business it brought in.

Some additional information. I’ve been mixing “I and we” for a reason. While I wrote the bulk of this book, my late business partner (Bill Kimmel) edited and added his comments.

At the same time, he was writing a book on medical devices, which I edited and added my comments. Later, we collaborated on a third book. So both names appear on all three books as co-authors.

Writing a book is a big challenge. An even bigger challenge is getting it into the hands of prospective clients.

Realizing our primary business was consulting — not writing — we elected to give away our first book. It was a huge marketing successes!

P.S. In addition to the books, we wrote over 200 technical articles (for free,) and published a free client newsletter for over 20 years. It has all been a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. And it greatly enhanced the visibility and credibility of our consulting firm.

Don’t be afraid to share your expertise – for FREE. The pay off is there!


* Read the first chapter of the “EDN Magazine Designer’s Guide to EMC” here.

© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

2015 Annual Review…

Another year about gone, and once again it is time to reflect.

Got this idea from Chris Gullibeau of The Art of Nonconformity. He does this each year, and each year challenges others to do the same. Great idea!

So as always, I’ll review three categories:

But first, a quick overview…

The JumpToConsulting project is now FIVE years old. The catalysts were questions by my older son, questions by colleagues, and a fat file for a prospective book. With today’s economy, many people are considering options such as consulting.

I was also intrigued by blogging, and simply wanted to learn more about this Internet phenomena. What better way that to just start a blog. Incidentally, that was the same attitude that got me into consulting. Curiosity, and a desire to learn.

The EMI-GURU project is now almost FORTY years old, which led to full time consulting in 1987. It has been great fun, and quite successful. I’ve traveled the world, and made a lot of friends along the way.

It made me both location independent and financially independent. Best of all, it allowed me to practice my profession as an Electrical Engineer in a ways I didn’t even imagine as a young engineer.

The EMI-GURU project also provides the grist for JumpToConsulting. Much of what is discussed here is based EMI-GURU experiences. The stuff I talk about is not theory — rather, this is real world and is based on almost 40 years in the consulting business!

LOOKING BACK on 2015…

Jump-to-Consulting – The blog is up to 185 posts. Had planned on more but got sidetracked with my business partner’s cancer. Now back on track, with at least one post per week. Still have well over 100 ideas for new posts.

Not many readers (it is a pretty tight niche), but it has helped several Jumpers. So don’t be bashful — your questions and feedback mean a lot, and they inspire me to keep going.

EMI-GURU – Sad news here. My good friend and business partner of almost 40 years passed away in April from pancreatic cancer. It was a total surprise. Some days I feel like Laurel without Hardy, or Mutt without Jeff. I usually advise against partnerships, but ours was special. I’ll address partnerships in a future post.

As a result, I’ve ceased most consulting, and refer business to select colleagues. I remain involved with the technical classes, something I always enjoyed. Not ready to totally quit. More details at EMIGURU.

Personal – Although a crazy year, still put on about 8000 miles in the RV, with trips to visit grandkids in MN and CT. Also had several weekend trips with friends.

Moved back to our house, after the less than successful patio home experiment. Lesson learned – beware of HOAs (home owner’s associations.)

Sami the rescue mutt continues to bring joy, along with daily exercise as my “personal trainer.”  But due to the stress, the weight crept up about 15# as I fell off the SEC (Stop Eating Crap) diet. You just can’t fool Mother Nature.

LOOKING FORWARD to 2016…

Jump-to-Consulting – Keep on blogging, with at least one post per week. Also considering several other enhancements that were sidetracked in 2015. Watch my blog for more details. Better yet, sign up for the newsletter, or drop me a line!

EMI-GURU – Continue teaching technical classes, but not more than once month. There is nothing like seeing a younger engineer (and even an old timer) suddenly “get it.”

Personal – Spend time reading, writing, and traveling in our little RV. Restart the SEC diet. Get back into ham radio. Play with the mutt, and just goof off more!

Wishing you all the best in 2016! And THANK YOU for reading my blog.

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Ten Tips For Better Technical Writing…

Writing technical articles (or white papers) can be very effective marketing methods. They create both credibility and visibility at low cost, and can produce high results. With over 200 articles, it certainly worked at Kimmel Gerke Associates!

Getting articles published, however, takes time and effort. It may seem mysterious at first, but help is on the way — thanks to Bob Bly, an engineering colleague turned very successful copywriter. (Click here to see Bob’s “success story.”)

I just purchased his recent e-book “Marketing with Articles” and found it filled with practical nuts and bolts information on both writing and publishing technical articles. Even though I’m no novice, I consider it $29 well spent.

Here is an excerpt from this 129 page guide. Print this out and review it the next time you write anything technical — article, white paper, report, or…

TEN TIPS FOR BETTER TECHNICAL WRITING
by Robert Bly

I. Know your readers. Are you writing for engineers? managers? laymen?

2. Write in a clear. conversational style. Write to express – not impress.

3. Be concise. Avoid wordiness. Omit words that do not add to your meaning.

4. Be consistent … Especially in the use of numbers. symbols. and abbreviations.

5. Use jargon sparingly. Use technical terms only when there are no simpler words that can better communicate your thoughts.

6. Avoid big words. Do not write “utilize” when “use” will do just as well. (My personal pet peeve…)

7. Prefer the specific to the general. Technical readers are interested in solid technical information and not in generalities. Be specific.

8. Break the writing up into short sections. Short sections. paragraphs. and sentences are easier to read than long ones.

9. Use visuals. Graphs, tables, photos, and drawings can help get your message across.

10. Use the active voice. Write “John performed the experiment,” to “The experiment was performed by John.” The active voice adds vigor to writing.

As a bonus, you can start doing this NOW – even if you have not yet made your own JumpToConsulting. Done right, it poses no threat to current employers, and may even enhance your credibility with your bosses.

So read it, and then get busy with YOUR articles. Yes, you can do it!

And thank you, Bob, for sharing your wisdom, and keeping it so economical!

“Marketing with Articles”, an e-book by Bob Bly (Copywriter/Consultant), 2014, $29
Order Here: www.getfamouswritingarticles.com


Disclosure – I have NO affiliation with Bob, and receive NOTHING in return – other than the satisfaction of sharing a valuable resource.


Past articles you may find of interest:

-Lead Generator #1 – Write Articles

-Lead Generator #2 – Develop White Papers

© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

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