General Consulting

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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.

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