General Consulting

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Buy Lunch for a Vendor…

Want some quick insight and exposure into a market? Offer to buy a vendor lunch. After all, they spend their lives out in the marketplace.

This is particularly effective in niche markets. You have identified your potential niches, right? If not, review this post.

A new consulting colleague in Phoenix did this with good success.

Upon hanging out his shingle, he took a local sales engineer to lunch to pick his brain about the market. In return, he offered to help the sales engineer with technical support (gratis.)

It was, and is, a win-win situation. As the old saying goes, one hand washes the other.

On a personal note, I had that happen to me as a new sales engineer.

When a customer called about lunch, I figured I was going to hear about our delivery problems. It had been a hard slog and some of his key projects were in jeopardy.

I planned to buy lunch.

But instead, he insisted on buying lunch. Then he and his boss thanked me for my efforts on their behalf. What a pleasant surprise!

As a result, guess who got very fast response to future questions and concerns? We all like to be appreciated.

 So treat vendors and sales people in your market with respect. And if you get the chance, offer to buy lunch!

P.S. Know someone who might benefit from JumpToConsulting?  Please forward a link.  Thanks!

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Small town living – a path to financial independence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well done, both of you!

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

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Thought Leadership – Is is really necessary?

The short answer — NO! 

But you DO need to be able to help your clients. Time for a mini-rant.

If you are like me, you are probably weary of hearing about how you MUST become a though leader to succeed in business. Unless, of course, you are pitching books or programs on thought leadership.

But let’s back up. Just what is thought leadership, anyway? Wikipedia says a thought leader is “an individual or firm recognized as an authority in a specialized field, and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.” Gee – that sounds like a consultant to me.

My big concern is the concept may hold people back. As in, “If I’m not a thought leader, how can I break into consulting?” Don’t let this business jargon bamboozle you.

Think about it. You doctor has specialized expertise that can help you. But do most doctors consider themselves thought leaders? I doubt it. Most just consider themselves professionals doing their jobs — helping their patients.

Now some doctors, such as specialists, may be considered thought leaders. When my wife had an unusual kidney condition, we consulted with one of the world’s experts at the Mayo Clinic. He fit my definition of a thought leader. Even then, he was modest to a fault. (Incidentally, he quickly diagnosed the issue, while ruling out any serious problems.)

There is nothing wrong with aspiring to and becoming a thought leader. But it doesn’t happen overnight, and you DON’T need it to get started as a consultant.

You DO need to identify your niches, and you DO need to be competent and experienced in those niches. In certain areas, you may need to be licensed.

OK, so I don’t need to be a thought leader to start, but how can I eventually become one anyway? Writing and speaking are two good avenues.

Magazine articles and white papers are a good start. A book is even better, preferably published by recognized publisher.

Speeches and seminars also good avenues. All these take time, however, so don’t expect to be vaulted overnight into a thought leadership position.

But don’t overlook just doing a good job for your clients. Experience is a big part of becoming a thought leader, and the only way to get experience is to  DO it — over and over.

Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to really master a subject. Some pundits dispute the numbers, but the fact is it takes time and effort to become an expert – or a thought leader.

As an example, we started Kimmel Gerke Associates almost 30 years ago as a couple of reasonably competent engineers. To market ourselves, we started writing magazine articles and doing technical presentations. At that time, we did not consider ourselves though leaders.

Over time, this eventually led to 200+ articles, three books, hundreds of consultations, and training 10,000+ students through public and in-house seminars.

At some point, I suppose, we became thought leaders in our field – not that it really mattered to either of us anyway. But that came later, not right away.

NO, you don’t need to be a “thought leader” to make your JumpToConsulting. But the sooner you do make the jump, the the sooner you can become a thought leader – if that is even your goal in the first place.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Should you take equity in lieu of cash?

Here is a reply to a post by Michael Zipursky over at Consulting Success, where Michael discusses the pros and cons (mostly cons) of accepting equity or shares as payment for services.

Either way, both Michael and I do NOT recommend this. 

I completely agree! Never took stock, nor did I ever agree to work for free on proposals, with the idea that I would get the business if the company won the project (sometimes suggested by defense contractors.)

If asked, I simply explain that I’m too small to carry anyone for free. Better to pursue paying jobs than to lose opportunities being tied up with freebies. Besides, if they really need you they will find the money.

While I have a soft spot in my heart (or maybe my head) for startups, I’ve avoided them and pursued Fortune 1000 clients instead. Even then I’ve been burned (bankruptcies), but only twice in 28 years. Great post!

As a new consultant, you will run into this sooner or later, particularly with smaller firms. Some are strapped for cash — probably not good clients anyway. Others may be testing you — assuming you are hungry for business.

Neither are a good deal. Better to focus your time on real paying prospects.

Remember, you are a professional, just like your dentist or doctor. Very doubtful they would go for this either.


Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Solo or not? Food for thought…

This post was inspired by Alan Weiss’s Monday Morning Memo (R), to which I have subscribed for many years. He succinctly addresses some pros and cons of going solo.

Dr. Weiss is a leading advisor to consultants. While his focus is on management consulting, much of his advice also applies to technical consulting. *

One of the major differences I’ve seen in people’s choices of careers, often unconscious and unspoken, is affiliation needs. If you don’t need people around you, a solo career suits you fine.

But if you do, it can be enervating to work alone. I can work with people but I certainly don’t require it, and I’d see employees as just so many “baby chicks” to be fed constantly. However, some people derive ideas and strength from working amidst others, and don’t mind investing in a staff that can help grow the business.

I’ve seen too many entrepreneurs dragged under by the weight on nonproductive staff. Pay a salary to those who grow your business, not those who nest in your business. You’re running a company, not an employment agency.

— Monday Morning Memo 7/20/2015

I’ve seen the same myself. Should I go solo, find a partner, or grow the firm?

In my case, I started with a business partner. Most of the time, I advise against partnerships, as I have seen too many go bad. But when they work, the can be great — just like a good marriage. (47 years here…)

But even then, we acted semi-solo. We maintained separate companies for ourselves (payroll, invoicing, retirement funding) and shared a common company for common expenses and income. The goal was to be able to act independently if needed. And while not intended, it certainly simplified things when Bill recently passed away.

We did consider growth once, but only briefly. Business was booming, and we were subcontracting excess work. Not wishing to market or sell themselves, some of those subcontractors inquired about becoming employees.

But we quickly decided against it. Like Dr.Weiss, we were concerned with the need to feed the “baby chicks.” Besides, we figured they would get to do the fun stuff, while we’d be left with all the management tasks and headaches.

So we kept it semi-solo, and I’m glad we did. Perhaps we could have made more money — or perhaps lost it. It doesn’t matter, as we made enough and had a good time doing so.

But either way is fine – you need to decide what is best for you – even if it means climbing back into a corporate job. Saw that happen several years ago with an engineering colleague and friend who started a technical marketing consulting practice.

Thanks to his own creative marketing efforts, he soon developed a thriving practice. But then he abandoned it after about a year. He missed the camaraderie of working with other creative colleagues.

So he rejoined corporate America, and is happy with his decision. But he also now knows that if he ever wants or needs to go solo again, he can do it.

As for me, I’m now completely solo, and plan to stay that way!

* Click here for more info on Dr. Alan Weiss. Books, workshops, newsletters, and more.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Some comments on fees…

Here is my reply to a post at Consulting Success regarding fees. Good info on this site — but with an emphasis on business/management consulting rather than on technical consulting.

As consulting engineers, we’ve used “project fees” for years. When quoting, we provide a budget and a general estimate for time. We use an internal hourly rate for estimates, but don’t include that in our quotes.

To me, hourly rates are useless. For example, if I’m getting a kitchen remodel, I don’t care what the contractor’s hourly rate is — I just want to know how much the project will cost. BTW, I’ve used that analogy on procurement people when asked about hourly rates.

Finally, we don’t bid “fixed fee.” Rather, we include a statement that “we will not exceed the budgetary estimate without client approval.” This gives us some room for contingencies or small changes. Clients and procurement people seem to like it too.

Hope this helps. I always appreciate Michael Zipursky’s insights.

Do you have questions of fees?  Ask away…

P.S. Been a crazy week here, as Mary broke her arm. On the mend after surgery…

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Don’t Hoard Your Experience… Share it…

Learned this lesson early in my consulting career. Fortunately, somebody else made the mistake, and I was able to benefit from their goof-up.

We’ve always had a policy of full and open disclosure for our clients. Retain us, and we will share everything we know about our specialty, with the exception, of course, of proprietary client information.

Worried abut overloading a new client, I quipped,

“We don’t hold back. You can tell me when to shut up, when you’ve had more than enough details and information…”

He replied,

“No, I really appreciate your being open. The last consultant we had (on a different problem) didn’t want to share anything. Seems he was afraid if he disclosed all he knew, we wouldn’t need him anymore.

My engineers were frustrated, and we all decided as soon as we have everything we needed, we’re done.  Which is a shame, as if he were more forthcoming, we’ve have him back again and again.”

Wow, I thought, I’m glad we didn’t follow that approach. Based on this incident, we made it a formal policy to ALWAYS share what we knew.  Even if it means they don’t need us again, because we’re pretty sure they will recommend us to others.

P.S. As a consultant, your goal should be to work yourself out of a job. Your client should always be in a better state after working with you. They will thank you for it by their referrals and recommendations — and by inviting you back for new problems.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

Are You an Economic Slave???

Ninety percent of Americans have virtually no savings… so says the latest issue of Money magazine. If you are in the ninety percent, consulting may offer a way out.

The problem with most jobs is that the income is fixed. Unless you are in sales (commissions) or an executive (bonuses), you have little opportunity for upside. But a consulting side-hustle can change that, and may even lead to full financial freedom.

Of course, making more money alone won’t do it. You need to cut your expenses too. Fellow engineer Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) saved his way to freedom in seven years, by cutting his expenses by 75%. Yes, it can be done purely by aggressive savings.

But you’ll get there faster, and with less pain, if you combine frugality with some extra income. I’m a strong advocate of combining both approaches — make more/spend less.

There are lots of ways to make more money. Unfortunately, many are scams or borderline scams. You know what I mean – multilevel marketing, on-line schemes, too many franchises, etc. Most of the money is made by the promoters — not the producers.

But consulting, even part-time, allows you to control your own destiny. The start-up costs are low, and you get to keep the profits of your labor. Other than the IRS, you don’t need to share those profits with those further up the food chain.

This is not meant to disparage other small businesses, such as restaurants, shops, specialty manufacturing, etc. But most of those require capital, commercial space, and employees. Not a problem if that is the way you want to go – or have already gone. :-)

Since you are reading my blog, however, I assume you have at least a passing interest in consulting –which I define as marketing/selling/delivering professional advice, with the goal of  improving your client’s situation.

No, you are not selling products or get-rich schemes – just your time and advice. You are joining the ranks of other professionals – doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, architects, business advisers, and more.

Doing so part time is a good way to start. That is what I did. For several years, my business partner and I moonlighted on engineering projects. Eventually, the itch got so bad we went full time. But is was much easier making the transition from part-time to full-time, than from ground zero.

Two final pieces of advice:

  • First, avoid conflicts of interest. You don’t want to lose you day job, and you don’t want to affect your reputation. Integrity matters.
  • Second, keep a low profile.  You don’t want to inflame petty office jealousies. The voice of experience speaking.

My challenge to you — As the new year begins, give some thought to your own economic freedom. Remember, Uncle Daryl wants YOU — to be FREE. Happy New Year!

P.S. Back in the game… My goal is one post per week each Monday, with additional ones as the mood strikes. So join us Mondays, or sign up for our feed and newsletter.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

2014 Annual Review…

Well, another year gone by, and 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 once again, I’ll review three categories:

But first, a quick overview…

The Jump-to-Consulting project is now FOUR years old.
The catalysts were questions by my older son, questions by other 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 began 35+ years ago, and 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 student or young engineer.

EMI-GURU 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 35+ years experience in the consulting business!

HIGH-LIGHTS in 2014…

Jump-to-Consulting – The blog is up to 150 posts. Had hoped for a few more, but still proved to myself that I can keep a blog going. Slowed down a bit midyear, but no plans to stop.

Not many readers (it is a pretty tight niche), but it has helped several make their own personal JumpToConsulting. (Way to go!) So don’t be bashful — your questions and feedback mean a lot, and they do inspire me to keep going here.

EMI-GURU – Not much new to report here. Continue to ramp down the one-on-one consulting, but still involved with the technical classes. Teaching (and sharing what I’ve learned) is a primary passion.

Personal – Dropped a few more pounds, which means I’ve kept the weight off for a year. Went into maintenance mode with Uncle Daryl’s SEC (Stop Eating Crap) diet, and it worked. But time to get more serious about this lifestyle change.

After 30 dogless years, we “adopted” a pooch in August. She has been great fun, and also an incentive to walk a couple of miles every day. I call her my “personal trainer.”

Spent about eight weeks in our RV. The longest trip was 4700 miles in the fall, visiting grandkids in CT followed by a ride through the mountains of the east coast. Beautiful fall scenery! Also visited several Civil War sites to temporarily satiate my interest in history.

LOW-LIGHTS in 2013…

Jump-to-Consulting – Slowed down in the second half of the year. Not burnout, but time for some reflection, precipitated by the passing of two friends a few weeks apart. So I simply decided to take some time off.

EMI-GURU – Business is slow, but at this stage in my life, I’m content. Leaves more time to goof off. No desire to return to the 30-40 trips per year of a few years back.

Personal – No low lights other than losing a couple of friends to cancer. That, and the closing of a favorite local funky restaurant, the Chino Bandido (Chinese-Mexican.) But life goes on…


Jump-to-Consulting – Ready to get back into the groove. Keep on blogging, with at least one post per week. Also considering an E-book, on-line classes, monthly newsletter, and a FREE monthly roundtable. Watch my blog for more details. Better yet, sign up for the newsletter!

EMI-GURU – Continue teaching technical classes, which I really enjoy. As an old codger, there is nothing like seeing a younger engineer (and even an old timer) suddenly “get it.”

Also continue to pass consulting jobs to my business partner, who is still very much involved in both consulting and training. I’ll back up as needed, but rest assured, EMI-GURU is ALIVE and WELL!

Personal – Spend time with the grandchildren, along with reading, writing, and more travel in our little RV. Restart the weight loss program from maintenance mode. A goal is to eventually lose another 60 pounds so I can join the centennial weight loss club.

May move back to our house, due to disappointments with the patio home “experiment.” Lesson learned – beware of dysfunctional HOAs (home owner’s associations.)

Wishing you all the best in 2015! And THANK YOU for reading my blog.

Copyright © 2015, All rights reserved.

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