Archive for the ‘Financial’ Category

Rating your clients…

Do you treat all clients the same? That question was posed recently on Succeed, a small business forum on LinkedIn. Always ready to share my opinions, here is the answer I posted there.

Like so many have said already, we strive to treat all our clients with respect. But in reality, some clients are better than others.

So, we divide our clients into three categories: A, B, and C.

Everybody starts out on the “A- list”, regardless of income potential. Size doesn’t matter. We’ve had small clients turn into large clients and/or great referral sources.

– Those who pay promptly and are pleasant stay on the A-list.

–Those who pay late drop to the B-list.

–Those who pay REALLY late or are difficult in other ways drop to the C-list.

Since much of our business is repeat business, it helps us prioritize our responses. Most of our clients are a sincere pleasure to work with. As for very few who are not — well, life is too short to put up with them.

Some further clarification. Just because they look like a good client does not make them one. Over the years, we’ve had to move a couple of well known companies to the C-List. Usually the problem lies with the bean-counters, not our direct clients.  But getting paid on time is important – and it shows appreciation and respect for your work!

Take care of your GOOD clients — and they will take care of you!

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Consulting as a Path to Financial Independence – Part II…

In my last post, I discussed how consulting eventually led me to Financial Independence. The primary focus was prior to making my JumpToConsulting. In this post, I’ll elaborate on things done at and after my break for freedom.

First, I put away a startup stash. This is key, as there is nothing worse than having to give up too soon because you’ve run out of money. In my case, I had enough for six months with no revenue, or a year with half revenue.

Although I was pretty sure I’d make it this time (after a false start a few years earlier), a safety net still made sense. That also made Mrs. JTC more comfortable, although she was behind me right from the start. Plus as an engineer, it is always good to have a Plan B.

As it turned out, we never really needed to dig into the startup stash. Thanks to all the plans and a couple of startup contracts, we ran in the black right from the start. And although I stepped out first, my business partner was able to join me in a few months.

Next, we watched our income/outgo like a couple of hawks. No fancy offices – we both used spare bedrooms in our homes. No fancy cars either. Neither were really necessary, as most of our business was on-site, and often out of town.

Each month we would review both our bookings and our billings. The latter is really important for cash flow. Unfortunately, clients often delay paying (particularly their smaller vendors), so you need to stay on top of your the payables.

We did spend money on necessities, such as collateral (business cards, brochures, etc.) but even then we did not overspend. No fancy multicolor brochures — just two colors (blue and gray) on gray stock. We did hire a graphics artist for a logo and typesetting, and it all turned out very professional looking.

After two years, we set up retirement accounts. By that time, we knew we were going to make it, and the income was more predictable. Our accountant suggested Keogh plans, which let us put away up to 25% of our income in tax deferred accounts.

To even out the personal cash flow, we both drew modest salaries – about 80% of our previous corporate salaries. This forced us to be frugal, and helped maintain a cushion in the business account for slow months. It also assured that the Keogh funds would be available at year end.

Any additional profits were distributed as a bonus. Since we were a Subchapter S corporation, these were not “retained earnings” so we paid taxes on the bonus. These funds were put into our regular savings/investments.

At our accountant’s advice, we eventually hired a “fee only” financial advisor. Good thing we did — when the market went sour, he minimized our losses. That lets us focus on making money, while he manages it. Like us, he is a professional who knows his stuff and does his job well. We consider it money well spent.

A word of caution! You need to discuss these issues with financial professionals – your accountant, attorney, and financial advisor (if you have one.) The laws are constantly changing, and unless you are a financial professional yourself, you need their advice. The last thing you need is to tangle with the IRS.

Finally, we didn’t win the lottery — our incomes were comparable with corporate salaries for engineers, plus a reasonable profit for our risk. It was the combination of regular savings in the tax deferred retirement plan plus self-enforced frugality that eventually led to Financial Independence.

You can do it too, and you don’t need to be a consultant. But you do need to exercise some financial discipline and planning. Trust me, it is worth it! Good luck…

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Consulting as Path to Financial Independence…

Since it is the Fourth of July, a rant on independence seemed appropriate. After all, it was my overwhelming desire for Occupational Independence that got me into consulting in the first place.

When I started my consulting practice, I was NOT Financially Independent (FI) — which I define as being able to quit one’s job and live off one’s investments. That came later. But the consulting practice put me on the path to FI.

There are two ways to achieve FI save/invest more, and spend less. When your investment proceeds equal or exceed your cost of living — viola — you have become FI.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you quit working — but it does man you no longer need to do so. It happened to me after about ten years in my own business. One day, reviewing my finances, I realized I was there. Trust me, it is a great feeling!

With a wife, two kids, and a mortgage I had been locked into a job like so many others. As an engineer, the job was good and paid well. But having grown up less than affluent (my dad died when I was a teenager) I had learned to be frugal. For somewhat similar reasons, so had my wife.

No, we were not paupers. We lived in nice houses, but they were always less expensive — and ostentatious — than many of our peers. We drove decent cars, but most were used — and we drove them into the ground.

We took fun vacations, but many were with a used tent camper — no  expensive ski trips or cruises for us. (We did go to Hawaii and Disneyland a couple of times — on free frequent flyer tickets.)

We remodeled, repaired, gardened, and generally had a good time. Because education was important to us, we sent both kids to college, where they graduated debt free. Savings, scholarships, part time jobs, and state universities all helped there.

We did stash other money away. At first, it was not enough to become fully independent. But it was enough to make my own JumpToConsulting in 1987. I figured the start-up stash would last six months with no income, and a year or more with any business at all.

As it turned out, the stash was more than enough. As an aside, I had tried this once before, without enough stashed away. After three months, I threw in the towel and went back to work at a regular job. The second time, however, I was better prepared (and wiser for having tried the first time.) More details here.

Starting any business (consulting or otherwise) does focus you financially. Resources are scarce, and you can’t squander them. You carefully evaluate purchases, and you make tradeoffs. You do NOT waste money!

Incidentally, Warren Buffet did the same thing — even as a child he often traded spending a dollar today for ten dollars in the future. I guess he has done OK.

On a smaller scale, Mr. Money Mustache (a fellow engineer) retired at age 30 by following the same practices. Actually, he didn’t really retire –  he now just does what he wants to when he wants to, but with no financial  worries.

Hop over to his blog to learn more -- lot’s of good practical advice backed up with engineering data and mathematical “rules of thumb.”

  • I particularly like his Rule of 752 — save a dollar a week today, and in ten years you will have $752. For monthly expenses, use 173.
  • Another rule – save 50% of your income – and retire in 17 years. Better yet, save 75% and retire in 7 years, which is what MMM did. Yes, it is doable – you just need to do it. (Kind of like dieting… down 20# here in the last six weeks… perhaps a future post?)

Finally, consulting is just one of many paths to achieve FI. By being financially prudent, living beneath your means, and stashing away as much as you can, you too can become Financially Independent.

Happy Independence Day! Start today, and you’ll get there a day sooner than if you wait until tomorrow!

P.S. See more details in the next post – Financial Independence – Part II .

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Question on Referral Fees…

Should you pay referral fees? That question was recently posted at LinkedIn on the Business Consulting Buzz group:

Referral Fees for Independent Consultants?

Interested in your opinions: As an independent Consultant, would you be willing to pay and/or receive referral fees?

Here is my reply:

As consulting engineers, we are concerned that referral fees might be perceived as conflicts of interest. As such, we do not accept (nor pay) any fees from the vendors serving our technical community.

When asked for vendor recommendations, we give clients at least two. If asked for our preference, we will share that with an explanation. Our vendors understand that no fee is expected, but we hope that the courtesy of a recommendation will be reciprocated.

We do, however, pay a referral fee to marketing partners for consulting business. These currently include a manufacturer’s rep (we are on their line card), and a training firm (we are in their catalog.) We also have agreement letters in place.

The percentages vary from 10 to 30% of the fee, depending on the effort. 10% is for a qualified lead that we pursue/close; 20% for a purchase order; and 30% for collecting the payment and sending us a check for our share. We pay referrals only when we get paid, and only on the fee (not expenses, as we do not mark up client expenses.)

Also, we don’t partner with consulting colleagues. We tried sub-contracting for a while, but it was more hassle than it was worth. When appropriate, we simply pass along leads with no strings attached. We make sure our clients understand that no money changes hands on referrals, and that we are out of the loop. In other words, we passed along a name — please make your own business decisions.

Hope this helps. Feel free to contact me. Been at this consulting gig 30+ years, happy to share, and still learning…

If you are on LinkedIn, you may want to join this group. If you are not on LinkedIn, what are you waiting for?  LinkedIn is where the professionals hang out.

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Question on fees…

As a follow up to an earlier post on LLCs, reader C asked about fees. Here is my response:

Hi Daryl,

Thanks for the advice on LLCs…

Another quick question — how do you go about setting up your fees?

C

Hi C,

Glad my advice helped. Still remember the questions I had many years ago and how others helped me.

Ah, fees. The number two question I hear, after “How do I get clients?”

I plan to do some detailed posts on fees, but here are some quick comments:

- Three popular methods are hourly/daily, project based, or value based. Starting out, you’ll likely use a combination of hourly/daily and project based fees.

- You will need to establish an hourly rate for internal use. It is also helpful when someone just wants a few hours of your time. For longer term projects, you want to move into project based fees.

Most people want to know a project estimate, not your internal billing rate. Think like a remodeler — how much will it cost to redo my bathroom? Not, how much do you charge by the hour?

- Incidentally, value based fees are great if/when you can get them. I think they are better suited for management consultants, where you can charge based on anticipated ROI.

This is a bit harder for technical consultants, which is where you would seem to fit. In those cases, most people want a solution to a specific problem, and want an idea of the overall project cost.

- Back to the hourly rate. You fee should include your salary, overhead, and a profit.

For a very quick estimate, take your existing salary and multiply by 2. Then add a profit of 20% — after all, you are in business and entitled to a profit. These numbers are typical of many businesses today, and should put you in the ballpark.

As such, this is what it would cost a client if they hired you outright (except you get the profit…) These figures can be refined, of course, but are a good place to start.

So, if your salary is $100,000/year, figure $240,000. Divide that by 261 days, and you have a daily rate of  $920/day or $115/hour. This is a MINIMUM — if you work for less than this, you might as well stay employed.

Even if you are part time, you should shoot for this as a minimum, as the market already shows you are worth this to an employer. You can use this rate to estimate project costs.

- Another method is to ask others in your business area. Most consultants will share that info if they don’t see you as a threat. You can also often get that info through professional organiztions.

Once you get a range, shoot for the 1/2 to upper 2/3 point when starting out. You want to be neither too cheap nor too expensive.

Whatever you do, do NOT lower your rates to buy business. A client that buys solely on cost is NOT a good client, and often more trouble than they are worth. (Incidentally, that is a little experience speaking there.)

- If you can charge more, then by all means do so. You do need to charge a premium for short term projects, as your down time and marketing costs are higher.

For example, we do a lot of short term (week or less) projects, so we charge about double what long term consulting or contract engineers charge.

We also charge a premium above that for training projects. Occasionally I’ll get a pushback, but I point out that we “hit the ground running.”

- If you are bidding projects, you need to spell out very specifically what IS covered and what IS NOT covered. You can always do extra work, but only for an extra fee.

Along that line, if someone wants to negotiate, NEVER reduce the fee without reducing the scope. Sometimes people are just fishing around (particularly if you are new,) so hold your ground.

If they do agree to a lower scope, that is fine — maybe they truly don’t have the funds to do everything they wanted to do in the first place.

Anyway, hope this helps. Looks like I have the makings of another blog post here :-)

Best Wishes,

Daryl

Thanks for the response and all the great information. I’ve got a lot to think about and get prepared.

C

My pleasure.  Stick with it – I’m sure you will do well.   — Daryl

P.S. To my blog followers:

–If you have a quick questions, please drop me an email – which may get answered in a future post (disguised of course.) NO CHARGE for brief questions – they make great post fodder! Plus I simply enjoy hearing from my readers.

–If you want in-depth personal help, I’ve decided to add individual “telephone advising” for a nominal fee. See the new Services page.

–As an alternate to the above, I’ll also soon be including a FREE monthly group call-in session. (Watch my blog – still setting that up.)

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

Resource Review – Stop Acting Rich… And Start Living Like A Real Millionaire…

Just finished reading this book. A great resource for anyone (including consultants and wannabe consultants) seeking financial freedom along with occupational freedom. This is the latest book by Dr. Thomas Stanley, author of the bestsellers The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind.

Unlike too many financial guides with their special formulas on getting rich, Dr. Stanley’s book shows HOW others have already done it. For the past 20+ years, he has conducted extensive research on the lifestyles and behaviors of the affluent. As an engineer, I love it — don’t just give me a theory — show me the data!

His results are revealing. As it turns out, most high net worth individuals are not who you think they are. Surprisingly, your plumber or hardware store owner driving the beat up pickup truck may well be a multimillionaire — while your doctor in the McMansion with the Mercedes, (or even your corporate boss) may be worth a lot less.

The difference is in what Stanley calls balance-sheet affluence (BA) versus income-statement affluence (IA). It turns out that many who earn high incomes squander their wealth in high consumption (or as he calls it, hyperconsumption.) As a result, they fail to convert their high earnings into wealth.

  • Among the worst offenders — doctors, attorneys, and mid-level managers. With their high incomes and high status jobs comes an expectation of high consumption. They often live beyond their means, with big houses, fancy cars, expensive suits,  gourmet food and wines, and more.
  • Among the best wealth builders — business owners (including independent consultants),  engineers (yea my fellow geeks), and college professors. Although by no means poor, many of these folks practice frugal living, living below their means and investing the difference. One day they wake up wealthy — and not from winning the lottery.

Stanley’s arbitrary criteria for affluence is a million dollars in net worth (assets minus liabilities). He likes to exclude non-investment real estate, since as we have seen in the past few years this  represents illusionary wealth that can quickly evaporate.

The real question, of course, is how long can you live off your assets and their passive earnings? With proper management, a million dollars in assets can last a LONG time…

So what does this have to do with consulting?

  • First, you don’t need a million dollars to start a consulting business. You do need, however, to have your finances under control. That means minimal debt combined with a frugal mind set. A modest mortgage is OK, but big car payments and lots of credit card debt are NOT OK.
  • Second, if you are not in a solid financial condition, I suggest fixing your financial problems prior to making a JumpToConsulting. And when you do make the jump, you’re not likely to get rich right away, but done right you can make a decent living and untimately create your own financial independence.
  • Third, once you do make the jump, keep the frugal mind set. Don’t put your money into a fancy car or office to impress clients. Rather, put your time and money into building your business through diligent sales, marketing, and delivery of services. Continue to live below your means.
  • Fourth, as soon as you can, set up a Keogh or other retirement plan, and treat it as a necessary business expense. If you set aside 25% of your W-2 income every year, it forces you to live on 80% of the full income (plus that 25% is tax deferred) As Stanley points out, the 80% method is a great way to build wealth in a relatively painless way.

For those of you who love stats and examples, here are just a few:

  • Only about 3.5 % of the US population has a net worth of over a million dollars. This translates to about 3.5 million households.
  • Only about 0.1% of the US population has a net worth of over ten million dollars. And only a tiny fraction of those are sport stars or celebrities. According to Stanley, you are more likely to catch malaria in the US that to have a net worth over ten million dollars.
  • Most true millionaires (not the pretenders) live in houses that cost under $400,000, drive Toyotas or Hondas, wear Timex or Seiko watches, and have never paid more than $400 for a suit. So much for emulating the lifestyle of the rich and famous.

Finally, why did I include this in a blog on consulting?

Because Uncle Daryl Wants You — To Be Free. Starting and building your own consulting practice is one way to do this, and I wanted to share my experiences and advice here. There are a multitude of other ways, but virtually all of them share a common theme of managing your finances wisely to create your wealth.

And in case you are wondering
— yes, my wife and I are financially independent. That was not the case when I started my consulting practice 30+ years ago, but thanks to working hard,  a successful practice, and frugally living beneath our means, we made it. You can too!

Stop Acting Rich… and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire
Thomas J. Stanley, Ph.D.. — Wiley — 2009
ISBN 978-0-470-48225-1

Web Site: http://www.thomasjstanley.com/

PS - Interested in more of this? Check out Mr. Money Mustache, a blog I just discovered on financial independence by a fellow geeky engineer who retired eight years ago at age 30.  Married, with a kid no less, so it can be done by a family — not just single persons.

Copyright © 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.

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